Cal cross country favored to take 1st at USF Invitational

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The Cal men’s and women’s cross country teams will take a short trip across the bay to open the season at Golden Gate Park in the USF Invitational. The event includes a 5,000-meter and an 8,000-meter course and features entries from UC Santa Cruz, St. Mary’s, San Jose State, Santa Clara and Holy Names University. The times of the top-five individual runners from each school will be compiled to determine the overall team champions in the men’s and women’s events.

Although the course includes a small, technically challenging asphalt path and a moderately steep hill, for the most part, it is fairly straightforward and a relatively forgiving course to open the season with. Additionally, many Cal runners have experience with the race course after competing in the race last year.

In the first race of the day, the Cal women will race the 5K course and look to capture their first team title since 2012. The Bears posted an average time of 18:24.20. This time left Cal about 22 seconds behind first-place Stanford. With the two-time defending champion Cardinal not among the field this year, the Bears will be robbed of the chance to take down their longtime rival but should be among the favorites to take the race in Stanford’s absence.

Kelsey Santisteban returns as a redshirt senior to race at the USF Invitational for the fourth and final time in her career. Despite missing the last cross country season due to injury, she also appears to be a favorite to claim her third individual title. For the Bears to take the team trophy, however, another Cal runner will likely have to make the podium with her.

The men will line up for an 8K race and look to defend their team title from 2014, when they dethroned three-time defending champion Stanford by posting an average time of 25:20.78 and sweeping the podium.

With 2014 individual champion Yohaness Estifanos no longer listed on the team’s roster, the Bears will need others to step up in order to hold on to the team trophy. If Cal can match or best its average time from 2014, it should be the favorite to repeat as the champion. Furthermore, its chief rival, Stanford, is absent from the event this year, and the team appears to be just as deep — if not more so — as the 2014 Cal squad.

Although the team needs to be wary of complacency, the Bears should be confident in their ability to claim both the team and individual trophies in the men’s and women’s events at the USF Invitational. A strong performance will boost the team’s confidence going into more challenging races later in the year, and a sweep of the podium for either the men’s or women’s team is not out of the question.

By next week, the team will know more about where it stands going into the 2015 season. A strong performance could indicate big things to come at the Pac-12 Championships, while a poor performance would prove that this team still needs to find more speed.

George Wu covers cross country. Contact him at [email protected].