Refusing to be outshone by the recent success of the football squad, Cal cross country runner Bethan Knights put on an impressive exhibition at the Roy Griak Invitational this weekend, dominating the field and completing the 6-kilometer course in a time of 20:54.
Knights crossed the 3,000-meter mark in a standoff with four other runners but blew away her competition in the second half of the race, nearly posting a negative split between the first and second halves of the race. Knights appears to be ready to compete at the national level after winning her first two races of the season convincingly.
The rest of the Cal runners were unable to match Knights, but the team was able to secure a fifth-place team finish, which marked a seven-spot improvement over its 2014 showing. The most notable performance came from freshman Marissa Williams, who was racing in her first collegiate race. Williams started out very strong and managed to finish at the front of a large pack of runners separated by only a few seconds, claiming 11th place. Junior Megan Bordes, sophomore Nuria Tio Peig and freshman Jordyn Colter rounded out the Cal finishers in 29th, 56th and 72nd place, respectively.
Although no individual male runner from Cal was able to match Knights’ outstanding performance, the team as a whole posted an impressive showing by claiming third place overall, behind only Michigan State and defending champ Southern Utah.
Standout Cal redshirt senior Chris Walden completed the 8-kilometer course in 25:07, good for sixth place. The result is a slight a disappointment for Walden, who looked like a favorite to at least make the podium after his fourth-place finish last year. Walden, however, showed off his impressive endurance and fitness by continuously making up ground on the leaders after crossing the thousand-meter marker in 17th place. He also showed off a very disciplined style of running, sticking to his race plan, but fell slightly short of the leaders in the final stretches.
The rest of the Cal runners stayed tightly packed throughout most of the race and all finished within 30 seconds of one another, with sophomore John Lawson claiming 16th place, junior Leland Later taking 22nd, senior Thomas Joyce finishing 24th and freshman Robert Brandt securing 26th. Brandt showed off his mental fortitude by remaining consistent throughout the race and refusing to start too quickly.
Considering the team’s 15th-place finish in 2014, Cal cross country director Tony Sandoval has to be happy with the team’s performance. Despite Walden failing to find his 2014 form, the rest of the team was able to step up and perform admirably well.
But the star of the day was clearly Knights, who appears eager to improve upon her 16th-place finish at the NCAA championships as a freshman. Knights seemingly held her own against some of the best runners in the country, conserving her strength until the halfway mark and then pulling away from the field, making up nearly 20 seconds on second-place finisher Allie Ostrander over the second half of the race.
This weekend proved to be a very productive one for the Cal cross country team and proved that it is more than a two-man show of Walden and Knights.The freshmen racing this weekend, most notably Williams and Brandt, showed remarkable discipline and poise, and should improve quickly as they acclimate to college racing.
George Wu covers men’s crew. Contact him at [email protected].