Cal cross country struggles in Wisconsin

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Phillip Downey/File

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The Nuttycombe Invite was a tale of two races for Cal cross country. The women’s team finished with a respectable 15th place out of a field of 33, and the men placed with a more wanting result: 31st out of a field of 35.

Both races featured some of top schools in the country. While the Joe Piane Invitational was a competitive meet, this level of competition was entirely new territory for the Bears this season. Some of the nation’s top teams were featured and they did not disappoint. On the men’s side, No. 1 ranked Northern Arizona took first, and on the women’s side No. 3 ranked New Mexico placed first as well.

The Bears, however, did have some things going their way on race day.

“It was pretty cool, like a normal Berkeley day. … It was perfect conditions for running distance,” said Cal head coach Shayla Houlihan.

The women’s team seemed to capitalize on these conditions the most. Senior Bethan Knights finished 8th overall, with freshman Brie Oakley finishing 26th as the first true freshman to cross the line.

“The competition was really really deep on the women’s side,” Houlihan said. “I don’t think (Oakley) felt the greatest yesterday, but she still put it together despite not feeling perfect.”

Behind these two, the next three Bears fell off considerably. Each of Cal’s three through five runners finished in the early hundreds. However, the women’s team was still able to pull off an impressive 15th place in a competitive field very similar to that of NCAA Championships, a meet they are well on their way to reaching this year.

The men’s side had a much worse showing. Of the teams featured at the Joe Piane Invitational which also competed at Nuttycombe, Cal finished last. Senior Trent Brendel was the Bear’s No. 1 runner, placing 109th, a stark contrast to that of Knights’ performance. Of the group consisting of senior Garrett Corcoran and sophomores Kai Benedict and Paul Zeiss — normally Cal’s two through four runners — only Zeiss was able to crack Cal’s top five scoring runners.

“The men’s race yesterday was kind of a mulligan. They had a rough rough day,” said Houlihan. “They got out really well (for the first 1000 meters) and then after a mile they started to fall backwards. So, we kind of have to go back and look at some things and see what we can improve on.”

The men’s team will definitely have a lot to mull over in the next couple days. Both teams are sure to receive an ample amount of rest to ensure that they are fresh for the more important meets coming later in the season.

One of the most crushing moments for the men, however, came from a former teammate. Junior Robert Brandt from UCLA, one of Cal’s top runners from the 2016 season, finished 7th overall in the race. With Brandt, the entire outlook of the men’s team would have been drastically altered.

But regardless of the former Bear’s performance, Cal must now focus on the present. With the Pac-12 Championships only two meets away, the Bears have a lot to work on if they want their season to continue well into championship season this November.

Harshil Desai covers cross country. Contact him at [email protected].

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