Cal to face top competition at first major meet

After a series of tune-up meets, the Cal cross country team will participate in its first major meet this Saturday when it travels to Falcon Heights, Minn., to compete in the 26th Roy Griak Invitational.

Run on the beautiful University of Minnesota Les Bolstad Golf Course, the invitational is traditionally one of the largest and most prestigious running events, featuring one of the most talented fields of the cross country season.

This year it will get even bigger, as a record number of 4,100 runners are expected to participate in 11 races. These runners will represent 26 universities from all parts of the country, but from only three ranked teams — No. 10 Portland, No. 11 North Carolina State and host No. 24 Minnesota.

This opens the door for squads like Cal, as well as Pac-12 foes Arizona, Arizona State and Washington, to step up and announce their presence on the national stage.

Unlike the first two meets of the year, this race will feature the Bears’ top male and female runners exclusively, while the younger runners compete at the Stanford Invitational this weekend to gain experience.

Coach Tony Sandoval scheduled the Griak Invitational in order to earn some much needed points for the women’s team. Last season, the squad found itself lacking the necessary victories to advance to the NCAA championship.

“I hope to see where we are at but also beat some teams and get some interregional points,”  Sandoval said.

Garnering points isn’t Sandoval’s only aim. The coach wants both his teams to gain experience from competing against some of the top runners from across the country.

As to be expected, Cal’s top veteran runners will lead their respective squads, namely Maxime Chevee and Collin Jarvis for the men and Deborah Maier, Taylor Dutch and Chelsea Reilly for the women.

Some younger athletes will travel to Minnesota to appear in their first major meet, including freshman Chris Walden, a highly touted recruit from Indiana, and Kelsey Santisteban, who recently won the USF Invitational across the Bay.

The Griak Invitational is the first of three out-of-state meets in the next few weeks for the Cal cross country team. Traveling to Minnesota will be demanding for the team, yet they feel up to the challenge.

“Anytime you travel there’s coordination and cooperation that is necessary when you’re with people 48 hours eating, sleeping, competing,” Sandoval said. “Warming up, getting to the airport, setting up the tent; that is all part of the team work.

“I like the fact that we travel a long ways away, it gives the team an opportunity to see places and things other than California.”