Cal men’s cross country team, Bethan Knights qualify for NCAA Championships

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Phillip Downey/File

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At this point of the season, legs start becoming heavy and it’s nothing but pure will that pushes teams to the finish. And with a goal in mind, the men on the Cal cross country team qualified to the NCAA Championships while the women once again failed to live up to expectations.

This past Friday in the men’s 10K race, the Bears placed sixth out of 29 teams with a time of 2:32.12 to earn a total score of 188. Cal displayed a solid outing at the Haggins Oak Golf Complex starting off with sophomore Robert Brandt’s 29:56.0.

This finish would place him 12th individually while his counterpart redshirt junior Trent Brendel (29:58.9) also recorded a top-25 finish at 16th. Following this lead was junior Garrett Corcoran and his time of 30:22.0. Sophomore Kai Benedict would clock in at 30:48.8, and redshirt freshman Paul Zeiss closed out the NCAA West Regionals at 31:06.1, putting him in 68th place.

“We’ve been preaching all year, patience. They stayed calm and in control the entire time,” said Cal head coach Shayla Houlihan. “They moved past competitors and teams over the last two miles of the race, and that made all the difference in the world.”

It was a tough day for the Cal women as their ninth-place finish out of 35 teams was not enough to get them to nationals. Junior Bethan Knights did her part to contribute to the team’s final score of 275 and its combined time of 1:43.59. Knights placed eighth individually out of the field of 238 when she ran the 6K event at 19:44.5.

Surprisingly, redshirt senior Xochitl Navarrete came in second among the Bears when she finished the race in 20:29.5. Sophomore Marissa Williams would now come in third for the first time this season at 20:42.8. Another Cal runner would not be seen for another 44 seconds until redshirt freshman Skyler Flora logged in. Trailing not too far behind was senior Megan Bordes (21:35.4), as she put in the final stamp for the women’s 2016 season.

Overall, the men’s team did not secure automatic bids to the national meet reserved for the top two finishers, which were Stanford and Portland at this meet. It was awarded an at-large bid by the NCAA on Saturday, handing them their second consecutive national appearance. Knights’ fifth consecutive top-10 display came with reward, as she earned one of the 38 individual spots to compete at Terre Haute, Indiana.

The last race of the season is the team’s final opportunity to close out the year just the way it wants to. The work put in throughout the year will either pay off or leave runners with regret.

“Beth is one that doesn’t take these opportunities for granted and values the chance to be a part of the national meet,” Houlihan said. “(The men) will be looking towards a top 20 finish. We were 23rd last year, and I know we all hope to place higher this time around.”

Oscar Oxlaj covers cross country. Contact him at [email protected]