Cal men’s, women’s cross country both claim titles at USF Invitational

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The Cal men’s and women’s cross country teams began their season on a strong note, as both teams captured the team and individual titles at the USF Invitational this weekend.

The Cal women were led by talented sophomore Bethan Knights, who dominated the race and finished the 5,000-meter course in a time of 17:29, 15 seconds ahead of her closest competitor. Senior Mariel Mendoza, junior Megan Bordes, sophomore Nuria Tio Peig and redshirt freshman Natalie Herberg rounded out the Cal contingent and finished second, fifth, seventh and 11th, respectively. The five runners combined for a total placing score of 26, which earned the Bears the first-place team trophy.

Knights, the most highly touted runner for the Bears, performed brilliantly in the face of high expectations and pressure. The sophomore runner placed third at the 2014 Pac-12 Championships and 25th at the 2014 NCAA Championships. Knights picked up right where she left off last year and has the potential to claim the Pac-12 individual title and a top-10 finish at the NCAAs this year.

But none of the Bears’ highly touted freshmen raced this weekend. The Bears were able to dominate this weekend’s race without a significant part of the team, showing a lot about the team’s depth this year.

The men’s team was even more dominant this weekend, claiming seven out of the top-10 places. Senior Chris Walden, who finished 17th at the 2014 NCAA Championships and earned All-American honors, finished the 8,000-meter race in 24:24, edging out USF runner Ryan Driscoll by two seconds. The Cal men also claimed third, fourth, seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th in the individual standings. The Bears lapped the field with a team score of 23, compared with second-place finisher San Jose State’s final score of 80.

Similarly to Knights, Walden had a strong start to the season after an impressive showing in 2014. Walden, a senior, will look to end his running career with Cal on a high note by performing well on the national stage this year.

Sophomores John Lawson and Garrett Corcoran also turned in impressive performances this weekend. Lawson joined Walden on the podium in third place after posting a time of 24:29, and Corcoran posted a time of 24:39, good for fourth place.

Both the men’s and women’s cross country teams began their seasons with a healthy shot of confidence — Cal cross country head coach Tony Sandoval’s efforts are starting to look like they might be paying off. Knights and Walden have already cemented themselves as the two Cal runners to watch this season. It remains to be seen whether they can continue their winning ways against stronger opposition, but both runners certainly turned in championship performances this weekend.

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