Cal cross country looks forward to future after tumultuous season

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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The grind is finally over for Cal cross country. With a season filled with both highs and lows, consistency was the one factor that held the Bears back throughout the season. After less-than-ideal performances at the NCAA Championships by both the men and the women, Cal will have a lot to build on next season.

“I think it was a really good season,” said Cal head coach Shayla Houlihan. “I think we made a lot of right steps in the right direction, and I think we’re all confidently learning and working together better and better each season and each week, honestly.”

The season started off on an unfortunate low point at the USF Invitational. At a meet where Cal usually dominates, both teams finished outside the top two. Considering the extreme heat the runners had to battle through, however, along with the fact that both teams rested their top runners, Cal’s finish doesn’t look too bad.

Cal rebounded from USF by excelling at the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational, the second meet of the season, where the Bears were at full strength. In freshman phenom Brie Oakley’s debut race for Cal, she was able to finish in the top 15. Along with senior Bethan Knights’ fifth-place performance, the women were able to finish in seventh place among a very competitive field. The men had a similar story: Redshirt senior Trent Brendel and senior Garrett Corcoran led the men to yet another seventh-place finish.

The women’s team was able to build on this success later in the season, having solid performances at both the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational and Pac-12 Championships. The men, however, did not rebound in the same fashion. Brendel and Corcoran led the men’s pack for most of the season, but lack of depth and standout talent was the team’s Achilles’ heel.

The women also had a roster that ran shallow, but Knights and Oakley carried the team. The freshman-senior duo’s flat-out dominant performances in every meet of the season were enough to boost the the women to the NCAA Championships in Louisville, Kentucky.

While the women placed 22nd at NCAA, Knights and Oakley shined as they respectively finished 23rd and 38th, each earning All-American honors.

The men were able to send Brendel and Corcoran as individuals to NCAA, but neither runner was able to fulfill any All-American aspirations, as both placed in the mid-100s. The end of the men’s season was unfortunate; however, a trip to nationals is nothing to scoff at. With Brendel graduating this year, Corcoran will look to take the helm of the men’s team next year as he appeals to the NCAA for an additional year of eligibility.

“The dynamic’s always different with a different team, but I foresee us being able to build on what we were able to do (at the NCAA Championships) and move forward with some momentum,” Houlihan said.

With Knights also looking to add another year of eligibility, the women will hope to return their dynamic one-two punch. Oakley, the reigning Pac-12 freshman of the year, will continue to grow into an even stronger runner, while Knights continues into the last chapter of her decorated collegiate career. The 2017 season was less than ideal for both teams, but with some extremely impressive performances, neither team has any reason to keep its head down.

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