Cal cross country has strong finish at USF Invitational

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As expected, the Cal cross country team dominated in the USF Invitational Saturday alongside Stanford. Taking the course in Golden Gate Park, the Bears showcased their new-look roster and provided the coaching staff with an early preview of a young but promising 2014 group.

In the men’s 8K race, Cal took control early and stayed in front of the pack throughout the entire race. Redshirt freshmen Yohaness Estifanos took first place, and right next to Estifanos was junior Chris Walden, who finished a 10th of a second later for second place. Seven seconds later, Junior Leland Later crossed the finish line, securing Cal the top-three individual spots for the men’s race.

“Those three looked very, very good,” said head coach Tony Sandoval. “Chris Walden has assumed a mantle of being our leader. He was aggressive from the very beginning. Yohaness is a redshirt freshman, and he’s got a ton of talent. We’re hoping that this is a springboard for him.”

Following the thrilling three came a herd of Cardinal runners who claimed the 4-8 spots. Right behind Stanford was redshirt freshman Trent Brendel, who came in ninth.

The women, on the other hand, were impressive but did not enjoy the same level of success as did the men. Finishing second behind Stanford, the Bears ran reasonably well and should be happy with their performance this Saturday considering the absence of star senior Kelsey Santisteban, who finished 10th in the NCAA championships last year but injured her foot in the process.

“We are hoping that Kelsey comes back, but we have to plan as if she is not going to be there,” Sandoval said to Cal Athletics. “If she comes back, she is a tremendous addition to our lineup.”

With Santisteban still suffering from a stress fracture in her foot from the national championship race last season, Cal is severely hindered on the women’s side. Still, after Saturday’s race, there are several runners Cal can be optimistic about.

Finishing first for Cal and second overall was sophomore Megan Bordes. Senior Heather Cerney finished ninth. Others who finished in the top 20 include junior Ashlyn Dadkhah, sophomore Molly Babcock and freshman Leann Jarvis.

“This is a test for her to show she can handle it in Division I running, and she did a very good job for us,” Sandoval said.

In terms of the team as a whole, coach Sandoval’s main concern with this year’s group is the youth. This season, fans will be seeing many unfamiliar faces.

It is still very hard to determine what Saturday means in terms of what to expect from the rest of the season. The purpose of the USF Invitational was to get a quick gauge and early glimpse into what the year has to offer. It’s too early to make assumptions.

“The basic thing we’re trying to do more than anything else is to establish a championship culture and talent team,” Sandoval said. “Across the board, not just one or two runners, but top to bottom.”

Contact Richard Lee at [email protected].