Cross country is a war of attrition — a battle that’s as physical as it is mental, spread across kilometers in which every step is worth its length in gold.
As Cal men’s and women’s cross country begin a new season, they’ll have another opportunity to emerge victorious in more of those little battles — to prepare for the future while basking in the present.
The women’s team will bring back most of last year’s roster, including redshirt senior Bethan Knights and sophomore Brie Oakley.
Last year, Knights further expanded upon her star-studded resume in her third full season, adding a USTFCCCA All-American and an All-Pac-12 second-team selection to her name. At the NCAA Championship, Knights placed 23rd overall, the highest finish of her career.
The veteran had one hell of a protege in Oakley, who put together far and away the most impressive campaign among freshmen.
In her first season, Oakley was the Pac-12’s Women’s Freshman of the Year and also earned an All-Pac-12 second-team selection. She, too, had an excellent showing at the NCAAs, finishing as the second-fastest freshman behind Weini Kelati of New Mexico.
Oakley quickly established herself as Cal’s No. 2 runner, even giving Knights a run for her money. At both the Pac-12 Championships and West Regional Championships specifically, Oakley finished within two seconds of Knights.
Only entering her sophomore season, Oakley is well on pace to take the torch from Knights and carry the women’s program into the future.
The men’s team will return a good chunk of last season’s roster as well, although there will be plenty more fresh faces in the mix.
With the departure of Trent Brendel, who finished first in three of the five races in which he participated, the men’s team will turn to graduate student Garrett Corcoran as its top dog.
Corcoran had his best year to date last season, earning an All-Pac-12 second-team selection and being one of two Cal runners on the men’s team to qualify for the NCAAs as individuals. He saved his best for last during his senior campaign, recording a pair of top-15 finishes at the Pac-12 and West Regional championships.
In addition to Corcoran, redshirt sophomore Andrew Burkhardt and redshirt juniors Takeshi Okada and Paul Zeiss will return, all of whom finished in the top 100 at the West Regional Championships.
Cal will have the benefit of revisiting some familiar trails this upcoming season.
Prior to the Pac-12 Championships and NCAAs, the Bears will compete in the USF Invitational, Joe Piane Invitational, Capital Cross Challenge and Santa Clara Bronco Invitational, all of which they participated in last season.
Cal will not partake in the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational as it did last season, but will travel to familiar territory in Madison, Wisconsin, for the 2018 Wisconsin Pre-Nationals.
The Bears likely have the USF Invitational circled on their calendars after an uncharacteristically poor performance last season.
Cal had figuratively (and literally) run that meet for a decade before falling off its pedestal in 2017.
From 2006 to 2016, both the men’s and women’s teams have, at minimum, finished in the top three. During that span, the women recorded six first-place finishes while the men racked up four top finishes.
But last season, the Bears bore the brunt of the heat that blasted the Bay Area last September; the men finished third, breaking a streak of three consecutive first-place finishes from 2014-16, while the women placed fourth.
With temperatures in San Francisco most likely receding back to normalcy, the Bears will have an opportunity to reclaim a top spot at the invitational.