Cal cross country looks to avoid another late season dropoff

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Cal students know that perfect scores on all your homework assignments mean little if you falter on the final exam. Last season, the cross country team excelled in its smaller races, but underperformed in its final tasks and ultimately missed that “A” mark. After looking gassed out towards the end of the season, coming up short at the Pac-12 Championships, the team will look to prove that it can maintain a better pace in 2017.

The cross country team will return most all of its roster, as it lost only two seniors after the 2016 season. The men’s team will bring back competitors who attended nationals and the women’s team will bring back athletes who came up just shy of qualifying for nationals. In both cases, the teams have experienced runners who know what it is like to be in the hot seat, a card in the Bears’ favor.

Top guns on the team include seniors Bethan Knights, Garrett Corcoran and Trent Brendel.

Knights had a stellar start to her career and as a freshman took third at the Pac-12 Championships, fourth in the NCAA West Region Championships and 25th at the NCAA Championships. But Knights’ pace slowed tremendously as she only competed in two meets her sophomore year.

As a junior, she took seventh in the Pac-12 Championships and eighth in West Regionals, and for most athletes that would be a huge success, but Knights proved out of the gate that she was capable of must greater feats.There is a saying that it is not about how you start, but how you finish, and as Knights takes the stage for her final dance as a Bear, she has the opportunity to bring her career full circle. She has had tremendous success throughout her years, but she has never gotten back to that bar set during her rookie debut.

If Knights can get back to where she started, she will be a pivotal factor for the women’s team. In many races, Knights has carried the team on her back, and whether she performs well or not could be a sink-or-swim situation for the team.

Corcoran is one of the men’s strongest runners and finished 29th at last year’s Pac-12 Championships and 34th in NCAA West Regionals. He was also a key factor in getting his team to the 2017 NCAA Championships, where he was Cal’s second-highest finisher.

Brendel had a solid sophomore season where he qualified for nationals and finished 145th in the 10k, but he made an exceptional leap from good to dangerous in his junior season. After finishing 17th in the Pac-12 Championships and 16th in West Regionals, Brendel was unable to complete his national race. Even still, he showed huge growth and improvement in just one year and if the pattern continues, Brendel could be among the elite in the country.

The men’s team will also take on the season without one of its strongest links, in then-sophomore Robert Brandt. Brandt was similar to Knights in that he had a stellar freshman debut, placing 21st in the Pac-12 Championships, 12th in NCAA West Regionals and 109th in NCAA Championships. Brandt, however, is no longer listed on the team’s roster.

Other NCAA competitors include sophomores Steve Correa, Kai Benedict and Paul Zeiss. Alongside the seasoned athletes, nine true freshmen will dawn the Bears’ roster as they get their first crack at collegiate races.

While in some classes, you can skip the homework and put all your eggs in the final exam basket, the cross country team will not have the luxury of slacking during regular season competition. The team is capable of having a dominant season as it has a number of excellent runners, but it must also be able to stride with power into the postseason, something it could not manage in 2016.

Christie Aguilar covers men’s swim. Contact her at [email protected].