For the first time this season, fans were able to see how deep the depth chart was for the Cal cross country team. Four races took place within a span of two days at the Joe Piane Invitational and the Capital Cross Challenge.
The first of these four races, the Joe Piane Invitational, started on Friday, where the team clocked in a time of 1:25.09 in the women’s 5K to place ninth overall out of 23 teams. To no one’s surprise, leading the pack of Cal runners was junior Bethan Knights who finished the event in third with a time of 16:21.8. This gave her two straight top-five performances on the season.
Sophomore Marissa Williams (16:44.7) also delivered top-20 showing, placing 16th overall. A new runner appeared on the scene as senior Georgia Bell made her season debut with a time of 17:12.4. Redshirt freshman Skyler Flora came in 9 seconds later, and senior Megan Bordes finished the scoring with a time of 17:29.2.
The men’s 8K race immediately followed, where Cal was able to come in at 2:01.47 to conclude the day in eighth place out of 25 teams. Sophomore Robert Brandt surprisingly beat out redshirt junior Trent Brendel to the finish at 23:50.9. This gave Brandt his second consecutive top-three display with his third-place finish, while Brendel’s 23:56.5 put him in ninth.
Sophomore Kai Benedict (24:29.3) and junior Garrett Corcoran (24:41.1) were another two who added to the excitement as their season debuts saw their times matter for scoring, while redshirt freshman Paul Zeiss closed the day for Cal in 24:48.8.
“I thought the team performed well. We had four weeks off since our last race, so it was a bit of a shock to their systems,” said Cal head coach Shayla Houlihan. “We definitely have room for improvement, which is very exciting.”
The story was much different Saturday as the Bears had mixed results in their races. In Sacramento’s Capital Cross Challenge, the men showed solid production with a time of 2:02.5, placing them third out of 16 teams.
There were four top-25 finishes for Cal starting with redshirt sophomore Steve Correa, who ran the course in 24:25.7 placing him 16th overall. Sophomore Takeshi Okada (24:27.2) and redshirt sophomore Max Leach were two seconds and placements apart from each other, finishing in 17th and 19th, respectively. Only three seconds behind was junior John Hogan who came in 22nd, logging in a time of 24:32.1. Redshirt sophomore Eugene Hamilton III finished within the same minute at 24:58.0.
On the other hand, the fourth and final meet saw the women’s team struggle as it finished its 6K race in 1:50.2, placing them 12th out of 19 teams. The only standout on the day was freshman Marissa Dobry, who secured the 15th individual spot with a mark of 21:13.5, her first-ever top-20 outing.
Following this showing were three redshirt freshmen in Natalie Herberg, Rebecca Croft and Annika Avery. Herberg logged a time of 21:32.0 as Croft trailed nearly 25 seconds behind, and Avery would not be seen at the end until 22:43.8. Redshirt junior Katherine Haysbert’s 22:58.3 would draw to a close a decent team performance.
These races were an opportunity for Cal runners to make an early case for a spot in the most important races later in the season.
“It’s a very necessary (stepping stone). We had to shake the cobwebs off in a sense to be ready for the next training and racing cycle,” Houlihan said. “I’m very pleased with our teams’ perseverance and culture shift this year. I expect things to only get better from here.”
Oscar Oxlaj covers cross country. Contact him at [email protected]