Cal cross country stays competitive against top-ranked teams at Pac-12

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Phillip Downey/File

For almost every sport, the Pac-12 is one of the most competitive conferences in the nation. Running is no exception, and at the Pac-12 Championships, Cal cross country’s men’s and women’s teams respectively finished a respectable seventh and fifth in very difficult fields.

This Friday, Springfield, Oregon must have felt just like home for Cal’s athletes. The conditions of the course were perfect — 67 degrees and foggy. The course, consisting of repeating loops, gave the Bears an easy race plan to follow.

“The loops were a little bit larger than 2K,” said Cal head coach Shayla Houlihan. “It was really nice on the women’s side because it was just get through the first two loops, and then, once you pass the start line, it’s just 1200m to go. For the men, it was just ‘run three loops’ and then the same thing.”

The women were able to improve on their sixth-place performance from last year. But their most impressive feat was simply in keeping pace with some of their ranked competitors. The Bears are ranked No. 28 in the nation, and they were able to beat No. 27 Utah and come within spitting distance of No. 13 Washington.

“We were 4 points away from beating (Washington), who historically is just such a solid team, it’s somebody we’re always looking to beat at the end of the day,” Houlihan said. “So being that close is really exciting. … It’s great to think about how that’s where we can be in a regional competition.”

The women were led by senior Bethan Knights and freshman Brie Oakley. Both women had top-15 finishes, with Oakley finishing only two spots behind Knights. The duo’s ability to consistently run strong races close together has been a huge strength for the Bears this season. The women were also aided greatly by their No. 3 finisher, junior Marissa Williams.

“Adding in (Williams) was huge for us. She just ran steady, steady, steady, and over the last 1000 to 2000 meters, she was just rolling and passing people left and right,” Houlihan said.

The men’s side featured a different dynamic than usual. Senior Garrett Corcoran was Cal’s No.1 finisher at 13th, taking redshirt senior Trent Brendel’s usual mantle as Cal’s first to cross. That being said, Brendel finished not far behind at 17th place. The runners, however, ran entirely different races.

“(Brendel) ran an interesting race. He was somewhere in the back for most of it and really came on strong for the second half,” Houlihan said. “(Corcoran) felt great and put himself in it and ran at the front with some of the best guys.”

The men’s team’s finish of seventh was one place worse than its showing last year, but it was able to stay reasonably close (20 points) to its nearest-ranked competitor — No. 21 Washington.

Both the men and the women have some work to do in the two weeks before NCAA West Regionals, where they will try to qualify for the NCAA Championships. The men will be transitioning into the 10K, the race they’ve been training for all year, while the women will continue with their usual 6K. The Bears’ ability to perform consistently across the boards has been a weakness this season, but this Friday showed that when they do, they can be a competitive team.

 

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

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