Cal cross country travels to Notre Dame, Sacramento

Phillip Downey/File

It’s been almost a month since the last time the Cal cross country team competed in a race. A span of four weeks makes the men’s first place finish and the women’s third place finish at the University of San Francisco Invitational seem a distant memory now.

The existing rust, if any, will be rubbed off when the Bears compete at the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational and the West Regional Preview this weekend. The top seven runners on the men’s and women’s team will make the trip to South Bend, Indiana to compete in the Invitational. The rest of the team will head north to compete in Sacramento at the Regional competition.

“It has been a while since our last race. We have taken advantage of the time between races to make big fitness gains,” said Cal head coach Shayla Houlihan. “Without training it makes racing very hard. I think time away from racing has made them hungry to achieve more.”

The Joe Piane Invitational, hosted by Notre Dame, will bring a total of 59 teams to the Burke Golf Course. The very best are set to line up Friday as No. 1 Providence, defending National Champion No. 3 New Mexico and No. 5 NC State will make their presences felt in the women’s 5K race. In the men’s 8K race, Cal will have to look out for No. 9 Eastern Kentucky, No. 12 Wisconsin, No. 18 UTEP and No. 20 Mississippi.

Meanwhile on Saturday, the rest of the Bears will compete closer to home in Sacramento on the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex. The West Regional Preview will be hosted by Sacramento State, where an expected 20 teams will show up, including Pac-12 foes Arizona State and USC. The women will partake in a newly expanded 6K course while the men will race in the traditional 8K event. It is safe to say that Cal will be one of the heavy favorites to walk away with victories even as a “B” team considering there will be no big name threats.

Both races are of high importance this weekend as the outcomes will show the Bears where they stand heading into November. The golf complex will be the same site for the 2016 NCAA West Regional Championships, so running it this Saturday will be of valuable experience for those chosen to run it again. As for the Cal runners heading to Indiana, it will be interesting to see how they will perform in an atmosphere that will most certainly feel like a nationally driven event. The men will bring forth their five strongest runners who contributed to the top 10 performance that led to the USF Invitational win. The same could be said for the women as their lineup consists of four runners who placed in the top 10 in their respectable race.

“There are no limits on both of these teams,” Houlihan said. “I’m their biggest advocate and believer. I feel we’re going to go out there and put on a great show.”

Oscar Oxlaj covers cross country. Contact him at [email protected]