Knights stars for Cal cross country at Pac-12s

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The rain was not enough to stop freshman sensation Bethan Knights from excelling and impressing yet again. On days such as this, it appears as if nothing can stand in the way of Knights as she becomes a superstar.

Knights’ third-place performance led Cal’s men’s and women’s cross country teams at Friday’s Pac-12 cross country championships, hosted by the Bears. The meet featured an incredibly tough field, highlighted by many of the nation’s best teams and runners. Both the men’s and the women’s teams managed to traverse these tough fields better than expected, with each ultimately finishing in seventh place.

The men’s team faced a difficult field highlighted by five of the nation’s top-12 teams but was able to perform better than they had in the past. Led by their own star, redshirt junior Chris Walden, and his 10th-place finish in the 8k race, the Bears improved upon a ninth-place finish in last year’s Pac-12 championships. The big winners at the meet were the No. 1 Colorado men, who came in as overwhelming favorites as the reigning national champions. The individual winner was Oregon’s Edward Cheserek, who remains undefeated this year.

Outside of Walden, the rest of Cal’s top-five was comprised entirely of freshmen, led by redshirt freshman Yohannes Estifanos, who finished 32nd, and true freshman John Lawson, who came in 42nd place.

Because the men’s team is so young, it was not a huge surprise that they didn’t come away with a victory, especially given the fact that they were competing in one of the more stacked fields that will be seen at a conference’s championship meet. Given this, the fact that they improved upon last year’s performance should be an encouraging sign of things to come for the men, whose team was comprised of six freshmen out of their eight total runners.

The women also faced a very tough field, which included six of the nation’s top-30 teams. The Bears managed a solid performance, improving upon their own ninth-place finish in last year’s meet largely because of Knights’ phenomenal showing in the race.

“We knew with each race (Bethan) would get better and better,” head coach Tony Sandoval told Cal Athletics. “She has the competitiveness of a tiger, and she certainly showed that today.”

In addition to Knights, the Bears saw impressive performances from junior Mariel Mendoza and sophomore Megan Bordes, both of whom finished in the top 50. The race was ultimately won by Arizona State star Shelby Houlihan. No. 3 Oregon won the team event.

Both teams are young and will look to the future for chances to contend on a national scale. This year should mostly be used as a stepping stone of sorts for the men and women and an opportunity to gain what will ultimately be very valuable experience in future years, as the teams both hope to soon be fighting with the Pac-12’s elites like Colorado and Oregon for championships.

For now, Cal’s hopes remain primarily on Knights and Walden to carry the mantle for the team, as they are both runners who have proven they can compete with the nation’s elite in the championships this year.

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