It is the time of year when the breathing gets heavy, the dirt starts gathering up in the air and the gun goes off. The Cal cross country team will be opening up the 2016 season.
Cal will open up its 2016 campaign Saturday at the University of San Francisco Invitational. For the Bears, there will be one important thing to take away from the first meet — where they stand among early competition.
The race will be held at Golden Gate Park, where the men will compete in the 8K race while the women will run the 6K event. A total of 11 teams are scheduled to race, including Bay Area natives Stanford, San Jose State, Santa Clara and host USF.
What is different about this year’s race is that the women will have to run one extra kilometer than they did last season. Previously, the women would run the 5K trail at the USF Invitational, but a new 2,000-meter loop was unveiled this year. The extra distance on the course will take its toll because, as the race wears on, the women will have to endure more grass, dirt trails, downhills and uphills.
Cal has shown the ability to dominate this competition in previous seasons. The women will look to renew their status as champions while the men look to three-peat. Last season, the women were able to take the USF Invitational crown by racking up three top five individual finishes. The men were able to place all of their runners in the top 10 individually to retain their title.
The main threat in the way of the Bears’ attempts to sweep the invitational this weekend is running powerhouse Stanford. The Cardinal is one of two teams not named Cal to win the invitational this decade, the other being the USF men’s team in 2010. The Stanford men’s cross country team has managed to earn its own three-peat, winning from 2011 to 2013. On the other side, the women have also had their share of victories, winning back-to-back races in 2013 and 2014. Winning once again would have more meaning for the Cardinal, considering the adversary.
Cal, who will be eager to get in its rival’s way, can start to build its confidence by displaying strong performances from the early going, as the season is long and the goal of making it to the national stage can seem more reachable with wins Saturday.
Oscar Oxlaj covers cross country. Contact him at [email protected]