Cal cross country prepares for NCAA West Regional Championships

Phillip Downey/File

The Cal cross country team will have to put aside any distraction for a moment as its focus cannot be lost for this Friday.

The Bears will be traveling up north to Sacramento to take part in the NCAA West Regional Championships. The Bears’ task is simple — they must finish in the top two in order to automatically qualify for the NCAA Championships. A second straight appearance is at stake for the men while the women can stop a four-year drought.

The meet is set to be run on the Haggin Oaks Golf Course and is hosted by Sacramento State and the Sacramento Sports Commision. The women are expected to start their race at 11 a.m., although this competition will be very different than usual, as the men’s race will now be stretched to a 10K and they’ll be set to line up one hour later.

“We need to continue to be patient and follow the plan provided. Especially for the men that are moving from 8K to 10K,” said Cal head coach Shayla Houlihan. “There will be a lot of time to move during the race, so staying calm and relaxed will be very important in executing the race plan.”

Among the teams competing at the Regional Championships are four ranked teams — No. 4 Washington, No. 7 Stanford, No. 10 Portland and No. 11 Oregon. Cal will be led by newly named First Team All-Pac-12 selection junior Bethan Knights who will suit up to compete after her presence was missed a year ago.

The men’s side is no different, as the Bears will also go up against top-ranked opponents, including Pac-12 rivals No. 4 Stanford, No. 8 UCLA, No. 10 Oregon, No. 12 Portland and No. 17 Washington State. Cal’s arsenal includes the team’s two best runners in redshirt junior Trent Brendel and sophomore Robert Brandt.

A unique time is upon the Bears, as making it to the national stage together was the mission at the start of the season. They are now just one step away from doing so, but their performance must be at the highest level considering the competition at hand.

“I know they are capable of achieving the big goals we set at the beginning of the year,” Houlihan said. “And I am excited to see how everything will play out.”

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