Chris Walden shines for Cal cross country over weekend

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All that separated redshirt junior Chris Walden from victory was 4.3 seconds. Racing against some of the country’s best runners, Walden still managed to impress and came gut-wrenchingly close to what would have been a huge individual victory in the eight-kilometer race, eventually coming in fourth place.

This weekend for the Cal men’s and women’s cross country teams was defined by slightly disappointing finishes. At the Roy Griak Invitational, hosted by the University of Minnesota, Cal’s men finished 15th out of 31 teams despite Walden’s impressive showing, while the women, led by freshman Bethan Knights managed to finish 12th out of 35.

The Roy Griak Invitational had a stacked field, and it really showed for the Bears, as neither the men nor the women were close to winning. The women faced an especially competitive field led by No. 3 Michigan State, which went on to win the event, and second-place finisher, No. 9 Iowa State. The men’s race had a more surprising winner, as unheralded Southern Utah won the meet over perceived contenders such as top-25 teams Texas and North Carolina, both of whom finished outside of the top five at the meet.

The Bears also sent runners to compete at the Stanford Invitational. The main purpose of this event for Cal was for the younger runners to showcase their abilities, and the most notable efforts were put forward by 84th-place finisher redshirt sophomore Ned Trim and fellow redshirt sophomore, 82nd-place finisher Molly Babcock, who paced the men’s and women’s teams, respectively.

While Cal failed to compete on either side in the team competition, there were still some individual bright spots. Coach Sandoval said Bethan Knights, who set the national two-mile record in high school, “received a lot of hype coming in because of her two mile record.” Knights finished 15th out of 390 runners and seems to be a star on the rise. Sophomore Megan Bordes also performed well, finishing in 55th place. Senior Sydney Gray also managed a top-100 finish, finishing in 84th place. Arizona State’s Shelby Houlihan won for the second year in a row.

The men, headlined by Walden’s remarkable effort, also managed to have a few runners provide hope for the future of this program. Redshirt freshman Yohaness Estifanos finished in 74th, and freshman Garrett Corcoran finished in 99th place. Southern Utah’s Nate Jewkes outpaced them all to win.

While the teams as a whole both ended up struggling to compete, runners such as Bordes, Knights, Estifanos and Walden provide hope that this team will be able to perform more impressively in the future, possibly even with a chance to compete with the best teams in the country on a bigger stage. Only time will tell if this bigger stage can be this year at the Pac-12 championships, which Coach Sandoval touted as especially significant this year: “It’s especially important, because they’re being held at home this time.”

If the Bears hope to change their fortunes and perform well enough to conceivably win at the Pac-12 championships, they must build upon the strong showings of runners like Walden and Knights.

Hooman Yazdanian covers cross country. Contact him at [email protected].