Cal cross country gets early look at NCAA course

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Cal will have the opportunity to come off what was a fairly disappointing opening to the season at the Roy Griak Invitational and the Stanford Invitational, running at what is arguably the most hallowed course in the collegiate world of cross country.

On Saturday, the Bears will head to the acclaimed LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Indiana, where the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s National championships are traditionally held, for the Pre-National Invitational. The men and women will also be sending runners to a second meet, the Bronco Invitational, hosted by Santa Clara University in California.

With these meets, the Bears have a chance to prove that this year’s team is one that will be a contender on the national stage. Cal’s teams for the Bronco Invitational consist mostly of young runners, with the men’s and women’s teams sending almost exclusively freshmen and sophomores. They will be looking to prove themselves and should give the Bears a chance to impress against some of the West Coast’s better teams.

The Pre-National Invitational will be an opportunity for the Bears’ teams to face off against some of the teams that will end up being their toughest competitors at the NCAA championships in November.

The women will be led by true freshman Bethan Knights, who is hoping to do the unbelievable and win the individual championship in the 6000-meter race as a freshman. Coming off a notable 15th-place finish at the Roy Griak Invitational, Knights will have an opportunity to impress against some of the nation’s best cross country teams, including three of the top four. Sophomore Megan Bordes surely will also be looking to prove that Cal has more than one contender for the championship on the women’s side.

But the runner who Cal faithful should most keep their eyes on is redshirt junior Chris Walden, a star for the men. He is likely to be Cal’s best chance at a contender for the championship. Walden comes in with the experience of performing exceptionally in stacked fields such as this one after coming in fourth place at the Roy Griak Invitational and will undoubtedly be looking to build upon his strong performance in an even more stacked field in Indiana, which features the nation’s top two teams.

Redshirt freshman Yohaness Estifanos, the 74th-place finisher at the Roy Griak, is another star in the making for the Bears and will be looking to take advantage of his best chance yet to prove himself worthy of national recognition.

While the Bears will surely be looking to jump at the opportunities presented by the Bronco Invitational and the Pre-National Invitational this weekend, their staunch competition in Indiana makes it likely that the teams’ stars, especially Walden and Knights, will be the ones who impress the most racing on one of cross country’s most vaunted stages.

Hooman Yazdanian covers cross country. Contact him at [email protected].