Knights, Walden advance for Cal cross country in NCAA Regionals

About halfway through Friday’s NCAA West Regional Championships at Stanford, it became evident that the Cal men’s and women’s cross country teams had not performed well enough to advance to the NCAA championships. With this failure to qualify for the championships, the season has come to a close for the Cal cross country teams.

Cal’s two best runners, however, still have something to look forward to. Redshirt junior Chris Walden and freshman Bethan Knights were able to qualify for a chance at the individual championships, the only Bears to do so. As has been the case for the season, both runners paced their teams in this meet. Walden finished in fifth place in the men’s 10k race, while Knights managed a fourth-place finish in the women’s 6k race.

The Cal men, who finished in ninth place, were led by Walden’s fifth-place finish. He performed especially well, finishing less than 10 seconds behind Maxim Korolev of Stanford, the race’s surprise winner. The prerace favorite, Oregon’s Edward Cheserek, finished two seconds behind Korolev for second place. This was a huge upset as Cheserek had won seven consecutive races and the previous year’s NCAA West regional. But his team got the last laugh as they finished in first place in the meet.

The Cal men’s ninth-place finish in a field of 29 was a solid performance for the team, considering their youth and the tough field the Bears were facing. Outside of Walden, the men also saw strong performances from redshirt freshman Yohannes Estifanos and Trent Brendel, both of whom managed to traverse the tough competition on the way to top-50 finishes. The field was composed of four of the country’s top-20 teams, including race winners, No. 2 Oregon. Ultimately, the meet’s top-five teams, Oregon, Portland, Stanford, UCLA and Washington, all qualified for the NCAA championships.

Knights, who has emerged as a star during her freshman year, led the Cal women to a strong sixth-place finish. Knights has consistently been the women’s best performer at every meet and is already able to battle with some of the nation’s best runners. Arizona State’s Shelby Houlihan, who has consistently been a source of trouble for the Bears this year, won the women’s race. She has finished in first place in three meets against the Bears now, including this race and the Pac-12 championships.

The women’s sixth-place performance in a tough field of 34 was a very good performance for Cal. They saw strong performances from senior Sydney Gray and junior Mariel Mendoza, both of whom managed top-35 finishes. The Bears achieved this strong performance despite the fact they were facing a rather stacked field, which included six of the nation’s top-30 teams. No. 3 Oregon won the women’s race, completing a sweep of both events at this year’s regionals. Eventually, the top- five teams in the women’s race managed to make it to the NCAA championships as well, with Oregon, Boise State, Stanford, UCLA and Washington qualifying.

While neither the men’s nor the women’s teams at Cal were able to reach the great heights of these other schools and qualify for the tournament, they both managed to perform admirably in their final meet and will look to be cheering on their stars in their ever-important race for the NCAA individual championships.

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

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