Cal looks to find its championship stride at Pac-12

SAN FRANCISCO, CA., September 3, 2016,—Cal Men's Cross Country at the San Francisco Invitational at Golden Gate Park .
Erin Locascio/Courtesy
SAN FRANCISCO, CA., September 3, 2016,—Cal Men's Cross Country at the San Francisco Invitational at Golden Gate Park .

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For every team, in every sport, at one point or another, the regular season becomes nothing but an afterthought. For the Bears, that time is now. This Friday, Cal cross country will be traveling to Oregon to compete at the Pac-12 Championships.

The competition will be extremely strong on both sides. In both the men’s and women’s races, six of the nine teams competing will be coming in nationally ranked. Last year, both teams finished sixth at Pac-12 — the Bears are hoping to achieve a similar result this year.

“I definitely hope to be somewhere in that top 10 range. It’s pretty crazy to have the top four to six teams in the Pac-12 to be ranked top 10 to 20 in the nation,” said Cal head coach Shayla Houlihan. “Repeating what we did last year and consistently staying somewhere in the middle to top half — that’ll be the goal for us.”

The course this year will be located on the Springfield Golf Club in Springfield, Oregon. The weather, projected to be in the low 70s, should be perfect for the Bears. The course itself will consist of 2K loops, with the men running four loops and the women running three. Houlihan plans to use this to her advantage this Friday.

“I think 2K loops help mentally break the race down into parts. We’ll be using some sort of strategy to help maximize our performance on this course come Friday,” Houlihan said.

Races are generally won by those who run strong and consistent races. The 2K loops will let Cal set specific, easy-to-follow benchmarks to mark their time and pace at the end of each loop.

The women’s team will be led by senior Bethan Knights, who hopes to improve upon her top-seven finish from last season. With this being Knights’ last year as a Bear, she will definitely be looking to elevate her performance for the last few races of this 2017 season.

Behind Knights, freshman Brie Oakley will be running her first championship meet as a Bear. Fortunately, Oakley is no stranger to running under the spotlight. Last year, Oakley set the outdoor high school record for the two mile at the annual Brooks PR Invitational. Oakley has been extremely strong this season, finishing in the top 30 at every meet she’s ran.

The men, after a disappointing finish at the Nuttycombe Invitational, will be looking to bounce back during this crucial stretch of the season. Redshirt senior Trent Brendel, who finished 17th last year at the Pac-12 Championships, will lead the men as Cal’s unquestioned No. 1 runner.

“I hope (the men) will be sixth or seventh, but it’s tough when Pac-12 has so many good teams. If we can finish somewhere in the middle to top half, then we’re doing a really really good job,” Houlihan said.

Both teams have delivered strong performances in the season thus far, but their ability to execute at Pac-12 will be crucial to the success of their season. It’s championship season for the Bears, and they have no room for error.

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

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