Cal men’s cross country wins USF Invitational, women’s finishes 3rd

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Phillip Downey/File

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Even though most alumni were primarily interested in Cal football’s win over UNC this weekend, there was much additional activity occurring across Cal athletics, including the season-opening cross country meet at the USF Invitational.

The Bears dominated their competition Saturday in San Francisco. The men combined to score just 37 points, placing 4 runners in the top 10. This performance was good enough for them to take first place in the 8K, beating second-place Stanford by almost 30 points.

“I think our men have a lot of potential and are going to surprise a lot of people,” said head coach Shayla Houlihan. “We did hold out a lot of runners that I think will be key players at the end of this season. So they’ve got a lot more to give, and that was very much under control. We’re really excited about what the men could potentially do.”

The women were not far behind the men, placing third in the competitive 6K.

Holding back the Bears this weekend was the absence of redshirt senior Bethan Knights and sophomore Brie Oakley. Together, Knights and Oakley were Cal women’s two best runners last season, leading the team for almost every meet.

“I wanted to see who was really emotionally and physically ready to go, and we decided they (Knights and Oakley) were going to be held out,” Houlihan said.

With the two stars held out, Cal’s freshmen took the wheel in the women’s race. Freshman Marea Zlatunich led the women with a 13th-place finish. Behind Zlatunich, fellow freshmen Sydney Vandegrift and Kenna Clawson came in as the Bears’ No. 4 and No. 5 runners, rounding out their scoring.

After Oakley took home last year’s Pac-12 Freshman of the Year award, the pressure is on for this year’s freshmen. Luckily for them, they seem to have hit the ground running.

For the men, graduate student Garrett Corcoran stole the show with a first-place individual performance. The talented Bear ran a 24:31.2 in the 8K, averaging 4:55 per mile. After a strong 2017 season ending in a trip to the NCAA championship meet, Corcoran is primed for another impressive year.

Behind Corcoran, redshirt senior Ellis Newton ran a noteworthy 24:58.3 to take fourth place overall as Cal’s No. 2 runner. Newton is a returning member for the Bears after a one-year hiatus from cross country.

One of the men’s most unexpected finishes, however, came from freshman Colin Fitzgerald. In his cross country debut, the freshman placed 19th overall, rounding out Cal’s scoring as the fifth man. The talented freshman drew high praise from his head coach.

“He did a really nice job at his first 8K ever,” Houlihan said. “It’s quite a big jump from the 5K at high school. To really be able to bridge that gap was really cool to see.”

With a blend of newcomers and veterans, Cal’s cross country team is off to a strong 2018 season. The team’s next meet won’t be until Sept. 28 at the annual Joe Piane Invitational in South Bend, Indiana. The Bears will have a long time to prepare and hopefully show what their true potential is with a roster at full strength.

Harshil Desai writes for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected].