Cal cross country runs 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 .

With the 2017 cross country season coming to a close, the Bears have crossed their final finish line of the season. While neither of the men’s or women’s finishes were especially impressive, they were marked with some promising highlights.

Saturday, Cal raced at the NCAA Championships, with the women’s team coming in 22nd and the two men’s qualifiers, senior Garrett Corcoran and redshirt senior Trent Brendel, coming in with respective finishes of 140th and 165th.

This year’s NCAA Championships took place in E.P. Tom Sawyer Park in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville’s weather didn’t pose too much of a problem for the Bears, being a comfortable 67 degrees. The course, however, gave the Bears an unexpected challenge.

“The conditions were interesting,” said Cal head coach Shayla Houlihan. “It was muddy in spots and some gravel as well. So it was kind of a fine balance of which spikes to wear and how long of spikes to wear.”

The women were able to muster up a 22nd-place finish in a field of 31. While their team finish does not drum up any fanfare, their top two finishers, senior Bethan Knights and freshman Brie Oakley, both finished in the top 40, earning them All-American honors.

“(With) the national championships, it’s really easy to get overwhelmed,” Houlihan said. “Everyone you’re running next to is as good or better than you on any given day. It was really nice for (Knights and Oakley) to feel more comfortable by having each other really close. They fed off of each other for sure.”

For Oakley, capping off her already successful season with a top-40 finish is extremely impressive. With both All-American honors and Pac-12 Freshman of the Year under her belt, the sky’s the limit for Oakley as she continues to compete for the next couple of seasons.

“It’s such a great accomplishment for her, and it’s a testament to how hard she works and how consistent she is with her mental focus,” Houlihan said. “Physically, she’s becoming an even better athlete than she has ever been before.”

The men’s side, represented by Corcoran and Brendel, had middling results. Both runners fell well short of their All-American aspirations, dealing with tired legs from their strong performances at regionals. For Brendel, however, his last race as a Bear was still a victory.

“It was OK. I think it was really difficult for them to come back from such a great regionals performance,” Houlihan said. “It was nice to get (Brendel) to the finish line, especially it being his last race in a Cal uniform. It was pretty awesome to see him get out there and execute that well.”

The 2017 cross country season will give Cal a lot to learn from. While the Bears saw a lot of success throughout the year, both teams were marred by batches of inconsistency. With most key runners returning next season, however, coach Houlihan will have a strong base to work with. This year’s season was far from a disappointment, but the Bears still have a lot to work on until they can call their season a complete success.

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

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