With the Pac-12 Championships and NCAA Regionals fast approaching, the Cal cross country team will head to the site of the 2015 NCAA Championships in Louisville, Kentucky for a final tune-up at the Pre-NCAA Invitational.
Director of Cal cross country Tony Sandoval compared racing the course to navigating a crowded freeway.
“We raced here two years ago,” Sandoval said. “It’s a deceiving course. It looks flat but has a lot of turns and positioning is critical. It gets narrow and then widens again at several points.”
Although the course may be technically difficult, it only covers 6,000 meters for the women’s race and 8,000 meters for the men’s race, and shouldn’t be too taxing on the Bears’ endurance. The Cal runners attending the race will be be more focused on testing their finishing speed and sprinting ability.
Senior Kelsey Santisteban, who raced as an individual representing the Bears two years ago at the 2013 NCAA Championships, will be returning for another shot at the course. On the other hand, star Cal runner Bethan Knights will not be making the trip, instead opting to focus more on preparing for the final stretch of the season. Without Knights’ presence, Santisteban is the Cal runner to watch as she looks to end her college career strong.
The Bears will be facing some national powerhouses, including Texas, No. 3 Oregon and Florida. Without the presence of Knights, it is unlikely the Bears will have a chance at the podium, however the team will be looking for continued improvements from its younger members who have been looking better every week.
Several freshmen, including impressive rookie Jordyn Colter, will be making the trip to Louisville for the toughest meet they have attended so far. The group was highly lauded at the beginning of the year and Sandoval praised the group’s perseverance in the face of high expectations combined with the growing pains of dealing with longer courses and the college acclimation process.
“The core of the program is freshmen and sophomores,” Sandoval said. “We have a few upperclassmen that provide leadership that we’re going to have to turn over, but we have a lot of talent coming up to replace them … I’m hopeful about the future of the program.”
The Bears’ coaching staff remains confident in the team it will be taking to the Pac-12 Championships and NCAA Regionals later this season, but Coach Sandoval also mentioned that runners would still be swapped in and out of the lineup. This weekend’s race provides an opportunity for the less experienced runners on the team to lock down their spots at the NCAA Regionals in less than a month for an opportunity to qualify for the NCAAs.
Because of the Bears’ success this season, it should be expected that several runners will be making the return trip to Louisville for the 2015 NCAA Championships. The event should provide valuable insight into the course and useful race experience, even for the runners that will not be returning for the NCAA Championships.
The Bears finished ninth in the women’s team standings and a disappointing 24th in the men’s overall standings. The team has improved upon its 2014 team placings at every event so far, and this weekend’s race should continue that trend.
George Wu covers cross country. Contact him at [email protected]