After several years of disappointing results and middling finishes, the Cal cross country team appears to have finally translated some of its potential into results and enters this weekend’s racing in strong form.
The Bears will head to Minnesota this weekend to race at the Roy Griak Invitational, held in honor of the legendary cross country coach who died this summer. The Bears will face a high level of competition at the event, with notable programs, such as Minnesota, Michigan State, defending champion Southern Utah and No. 24 Colorado State, also making the trip.
The Cal runner to watch this weekend will be redshirt senior Chris Walden, who finished fourth at the 8000-meter men’s race last year and returns as the highest finisher from last year’s individual event. Walden is the presumptive favorite to take the race, but Cal cross country director Tony Sandoval cautioned against predicting results prior to the race.
“Chris was very fortunate last year, he had a great race for himself,” Sandoval said. “But he’s a quicker runner this year and hopefully he’ll be able to improve on last year’s finish.”
The Cal women will race a separate 6000-meter course and will also be looking for a better showing than last year’s 12th place. Bethan Knights paced the Bears as a freshman last year with a time of 21:38, good for 15th place. Knights has shown the speed so far this season to improve upon her performance and should leave the race holding a medal.
After holding out his freshman from the USF Invitational, Sandoval has elected to enter five freshman in this week’s race, among them highly rated recruits Jordyn Colter, Robert Brandt and Marissa Williams.
“It’s their first college race. It’s a longer distance then they’ve run in high school, so they’ll have to get used to it,” Sandoval said. “We’re hoping for good things from them.”
The Bears will likely need strong performances from the freshman class in order to claim a top five placing in both the men’s and women’s team standings. Some of the team’s struggles last year came from racing in challenging conditions. Faced with 100 degree heat and a difficult, winding course, several Bears suffered heat exhaustion and were unable to finish the race.
The weather won’t be a problem this weekend, however the course will still be as technically challenging as it was a year ago.
Faced with a tough course that proved to be too much for the team last year and an equally difficult lineup of opponents, the Bears will be looking to continue their strong start to the season with a top five team finish this weekend.
George Wu covers cross country. Contact him at [email protected]