Cal cross country hopes to qualify at NCAA West Regionals

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Phillip Downey/File

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It’s the beginning of the end for the 2017 cross country season. This Friday, the Bears will be flying to Seattle, Washington to compete at the NCAA West Regionals, where they’ll hope to qualify for the NCAA Championships later this month.

Seattle is slated to be a bit colder than Berkeley this Friday, with temperatures in the high 40s — a welcome change from the blistering heat that plagued the Bears early in the season. Cal last ran in Seattle in 2015, but surprisingly, only four of Cal’s current runners have previously run this course.

“It’s really flat. It’s pretty close to a traditional championship cross country course,” said Cal head coach Shayla Houlihan. “It’s a long start, probably about 800m to 1000m before we make any turns on the course. … It’s a really nice course, and we’re looking forward to that.”

The men will be transitioning into the 10k after having raced the 8k all season, while the women will run their usual 6k. This change of routine will likely yield better results for the men, as they will finally be racing the distance they’ve been working toward all season.

“I think it’s going to be a really positive experience for our guys,” Houlihan said. “We usually come out pretty strong at Regionals, having that 10k training background. The men are definitely looking forward to a longer distance.”

The men will be led by redshirt senior Trent Brendel and senior Garrett Corcoran. Brendel and Corcoran — two of Cal’s strongest runners — will have experience on their side, having raced this course two years prior. Behind them, the men’s team will rely on great individual performances from the rest of the team to round out the remaining spots.

The men plan to run in a strong pack, pushing each other in order to maintain pace and remain consistent throughout the race. If they can carry through with that plan, they’ll have a very strong chance at netting a top-10 finish.

“They know what their limits are, and they know what they’re capable of,” Houlihan said. “It’s fun going into this race knowing that we just need to execute the race plan, and if we do that, we’re golden.”

The women’s side will feature senior Bethan Knights and freshman Brie Oakley leading the way. At the same meet last year, Knights placed eighth in a very competitive field, and she will be looking to produce a repeat of that performance in Seattle. Knights and Oakley have been Cal’s deadly one-two punch all season, and the Bears will be relying on them more than ever this Friday.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw them both, (Knights and Oakley), trying to execute together and run together,” Houlihan said. “That’s what they do in practice … and I would think two top-10 finishes aren’t out of the question.”

The Bears have a lot on the line this Friday. Last year, only the men’s team and Knights were able to move on from Regionals, so the rest of the women’s team will be eager for redemption. With the women’s team having markedly more success this season, the men will hope their transition into the 10k will lead them to better results. The Bears’ performance this Friday is the only thing in between them and their ultimate goal — Nationals. They don’t have room for error.

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

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