Cal cross country splits and travels to Sacramento, Indiana

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This weekend will be especially eventful for Cal cross country. The team will attempt to divide and conquer across the country in South Bend, Indiana, for the Joe Piane Invitational on Friday, Sept. 28, and in nearby Sacramento for the Capital Cross Challenge on Saturday, Sept. 29.

Cal had an exemplary start to the new season a few weeks ago at the USF Invitational in Golden Gate Park with the men’s team earning first place and the women’s team earning third place. With two events and double the opportunity for further glory this weekend, the team is certainly striving to replicate its admirable start to the season.

The 63rd Annual Joe Piane Invitational, also known as the Notre Dame Invitational, has the distinction of being one of the most prestigious cross country meets in the United States with some of the top-ranked teams competing. Athletes and spectators alike can expect competition at the highest level at what is considered one of the most beautiful settings for college athletics. The meet will feature three divisions — Blue, Open and Gold — for both women’s and men’s teams; Cal has been assigned to and will participate in the Blue Division race.

The women’s team will run a 5,000-meter course and enter the competition ranked nationally at No. 21 in the Division I National Coaches’ Poll. In the team’s Blue Division race, the Bears will compete against standouts No. 11 BYU, No. 12 Furman and No. 22 Notre Dame, the host of the event.

“The women are going to be fun to watch,” said head coach Shayla Houlihan. “We’re sending a group of five freshmen, and they all have the potential to be elite. I think they’ve really proven themselves over this past month of training; they’re just fearless and they’re excited to go race. Their raw excitement is a lot of fun, and that approach has the potential to lead to some big things.”

Meanwhile, the men’s team will run a 5-mile course and enter the competition as the No. 9 ranked from the West region. Heavy competition such as No. 2 BYU and No. 28 Furman will prove to be an excellent challenge for Cal. The men’s team’s first-place victory at the USF Invitational should elevate the team’s confidence coming into the event.

“I think we’re going to put together an exciting men’s squad,” Houlihan said. ”We are missing three people, but most of our top runners are going, and they are looking really strong. They have the ability to compete well with some of the ranked teams we’re going to see. There’s some tough competition, and it will be a good opportunity for us to place really high in an interregional meet.”

Although the Joe Piane Invitational is considered this weekend’s main event, Saturday’s Capital Cross Challenge is certain to challenge the Bears as well. The women’s team will run a 6K course and the men’s team will run an 8K course.

Stephanie Le covers cross country. Contact her at [email protected].