This Friday, Cal cross country will be running, for the first time in the team’s history, at the Wisconsin Nuttycombe Invitational. While the course will be different, the competition will be startlingly similar to that of the NCAA Championships — the Bears’ ultimate goal.
This meet will be filled with some of the nation’s toughest competitors. After last year’s collapse at the NCAA Championships, both the men and women definitely have something to prove to their competition.
“The Wisconsin invite is arguably harder than nationals,” said Cal head coach Shayla Houlihan. “On the men’s side, there are probably 20 to 30 top-ranked teams in the field, and then on the women’s side, it’s just as deep.”
Unfortunately for Cal, many things will be working against it this Friday as it takes the course. First and foremost, considerable travel is bound to take a toll on the athletes. This long flight, coupled with last week’s trip to Indiana for the Joe Piane Invitational, has the potential to be a taxing combo for the Bears.
The most challenging aspect of the day, however, will be the conditions: 69 degrees with 76 percent humidity. Those conditions make it extremely difficult even just to stand, much less to race. Conditions were also extremely hot in last month’s USF Invitational, in which both the Cal men’s and women’s teams answered with disappointing performances.
While all of this is true, the Bears will be coming off of fantastic performances from the Joe Piane Invitational. Both teams placed seventh in extremely competitive fields, and the Bears will be eager to build upon that success at the Nuttycombe Invitational.
The men’s side will feature senior Trent Brendel leading the way. Brendel has consistently been Cal’s top runner, finishing 12th at the Joe Piane Invitational. Behind him, senior Garrett Corcoran and sophomores Paul Zeiss and Kai Benedict will round out Cal’s No. 1 through No. 4 runners.
The Cal men’s team does have one question to answer this meet: Who is Cal’s No. 5 finisher?
“It could anyone — (sophomore) Takeshi Okada has been really strong for us in training, and then (freshman) Steven Khan has been working out really well as well,” Houlihan said.
At the Joe Piane Invitational, with Benedict performing at less than 100 percent, Okada stepped up and filled his role well enough to help the men place seventh overall. Okada will have another opportunity to earn the coach’s trust at Nuttycombe, but it will come against some tougher runners.
The women’s side will feature the front duo of senior Bethan Knights and freshman Brie Oakley. Behind them, sophomore Jordyn Colter will look to cement her place as Cal’s No. 3 runner after her impressive performance last week surprised her coaches.
“I do see (Colter) in the hunt (for Cal’s No. 3 spot) for sure, but honestly, our three through seven (are) so strong that it could be any of those women on that day,” Houlihan said.
After starting the season off on a low note at USF and then redeeming themselves at Joe Piane, the Bears’ true potential will be tested at the Nuttycombe Invitational. Doing well there will be a good omen for nationals, but a bad performance could be a harsh wake-up call for the Bears.
Harshil Desai covers cross country. Contact him at