With every new season comes new expectations. After resting many of its top athletes earlier this month at the USF Cross Country Invitational, the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational this Friday will be Cal cross country’s first major test this season.
The Bears will be flying out to South Bend, Indiana to compete against some of the nation’s top teams as they hope to match, or even surpass, last year’s impressive top-ten finishes on the men’s and women’s sides. This Friday’s temperature is slated to be in the mid to high 60s—a welcome change from the extreme heat of the USF invitational earlier this month.
The Cal men’s team will be running the 8k, while the women will compete in the slightly shorter 5k. This, combined with the ideal weather and the relatively flat course, will be sure to produce some very impressive times. However, both races are going to be much shorter, and therefore much faster, than what either team usually trains for.
“We’ve done a little bit more speed (workouts) than we have in the past to kind of prepare for this, because it is going to be a quicker course … but I believe (both teams) will be ready for (the challenge),” said Cal head coach Shayla Houlihan.
On the men’s side, senior Trent Brendel is primed and ready to lead the Bears in his first race of the season. Last season, Brendel finished 9th at this meet, finishing as Cal’s No. 2 runner. Cal’s No. 1 runner for that meet, junior Robert Brandt, is no longer on the Bears’ roster after a transfer to UCLA. However, much of the roster will be returning as the men’s team looks to fill that hole left by Brandt.
“I honestly believe (senior) Garrett Corcoran is ready to make that big jump (as Cal’s No. 2 runner),” said Houlihan. “I think (Corcoran) and (Brendel) will do a really nice job of feeding off of each other (during the race), and we honestly have a really nice top 4 with (junior) Paul Zeiss and (senior) Kai Benedict as well.”
The women’s side features a slightly different dynamic in terms of returning runners. Senior Bethan Knights will lead the way for Cal, as the Bears’ top returning runner from last season. Behind her, freshman Brie Oakley, a highly touted new recruit who broke the record for a national high school outdoor 2-mile run. With a pedigree like that, she’ll be sure to leave her mark on the track. The rest of the scoring five will be rounded out by a slew of returning runners.
“We have our solid No. 1 and No. 2 in (Knights) and (Oakley), but I’m really looking forward to having some sophomores step up and really take the lead here, (redshirt freshman) Chloe Hansel and then (sophomore) Marissa Dobry as well,” Houlihan said.
Cal’s last two races, the 2016 NCAA National Championships and this season’s USF Invitational, have gone worse than expected, but the new team is very ready to prove itself against some major competition.
“I think we’re definitely shooting for a top-5 finish,” Houlihan said. “But there are some even better teams showing up this year, so we’re excited for the challenge and looking forward to it really.”