Cal prepares for final meet at NCAA Championships

Erin Locascio/Courtesy
SAN FRANCISCO, CA., September 3, 2016,—Cal Men's Cross Country at the San Francisco Invitational at Golden Gate Park .

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This Saturday marks the beginning of end for Cal’s 2017 cross-country season. The Bears will be traveling the Louisville, Kentucky, to race in the NCAA Championships — their last race of the season.

The NCAA Championships will feature 31 men’s and women’s teams as well as 38 individual runners from nonqualifying teams. The women will be sending their usual top seven runners, while the men will field two individual runners — redshirt senior Trent Brendel and senior Garrett Corcoran.

Kentucky’s course will be something both familiar and foreign for the Bears. On the women’s side, none of the athletes will have run in Louisville before. Brendel and Corcoran, however, will be coming in having already raced in Louisville during the 2015 NCAA Championships. The course — mostly grassy, with some rolling hills throughout — shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge for Cal.

“It’s not your standard golf course,” said Cal head coach Shayla Houlihan. “Luckily, we’ll be able to go to the course a couple of times before the race on Saturday. … It’s pretty similar to what Wisconsin’s race course was, so hopefully, the knowledge we took from there will be useful.”

The women will be led by the electric duo of senior Bethan Knights and freshman Brie Oakley. This will be Knights’ third trip to the NCAA championships, having gone her freshman and junior years, but this will be the first time she’ll run with her team. Oakley, on the other hand, will race in her first collegiate championship meet this Saturday. Oakley’s performance will be one to watch, having continually impressed all season long.

“(Oakley) continues to be one of the best. At West Regionals, she was one of the best freshman, and I can foresee her taking a shot as best freshman in the nation this Saturday,” Houlihan said.

Aside from Oakley and Knights, the Cal’s three through seven will serve as the backbone for the women’s success at nationals. If they are able to run and push each other throughout the race, that might be the only thing separating Cal from a much higher finish.

“I think each week we’ve raced, we’ve continued to build upon what we’ve done the week prior,” Houlihan said. “So we’re just going to continue to do exactly that. The women ran a near-perfect race plan last week, and I think their confidence just keeps building and they know what they’re capable of even more so now.

Brendel and Corcoran, consistently having been Cal men’s top two runners throughout the season, are showing no signs of letting up before nationals. The two Bears will look to run together during the race, hoping to capture a top-40 spot to earn All-American Honors.

Cal this season has been led by its trio of top seniors — Knights, Brendel and Corcoran. For them, the NCAA Championships will not only be the culmination of their seasons, but of their running careers here at Cal. All three will be looking to end their collegiate running careers on a high note, whether that’s a PR, All-American Honors or a spot on the podium. Regardless of what exactly they do bring home, it’ll be exciting to see how they perform in their last race as Bears.

Harshil Desai covers cross country. Contact him at [email protected].