This weekend saw Cal cross country continue to place trust in its youth, with agreeable results that undoubtedly motivated the young team to prove itself.
Last month’s USF Invitational, the first event of the Bears’ cross country season, exposed many of the freshman Bears to collegiate cross country racing for the first time.
In Friday’s Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational, both the Cal men’s and women’s teams were once again distinctively young; six of the fourteen Bears who competed were freshmen. After now having competed with the country’s top talent in South Bend, Indiana, the Cal cross country team revealed signs of hunger, progress and renewal.
“We’re putting together a new team, and we were missing some of our scholarship runners,” said Cal head coach Shayla Houlihan. “That’s part of the growing pains, but we need to learn from this and get better.”
As a team, the Cal men finished in 13th place with a score of 305 in the 5-mile Blue Division race. First-place finisher BYU finished approximately six minutes ahead at 1:59:22 with a score of 23.
Graduate student Garrett Corcoran, who finished first in the 8K at last month’s USF Invitational, once again displayed his formidable skill and experience, finishing the 5-mile race in 24:00.7, good for seventh place behind individuals from BYU and Wyoming, the respective first- and second-place team winners.
Corcoran managed to establish his position in the front of the pack, staying within seconds of BYU’s Connor McMillan, the leader and eventual winner, during challenging moments such as the 1-mile and 4K splits. Corcoran went on to finish 17 seconds behind McMillan. Redshirt junior Paul Zeiss took 50th place as the second Bear to finish the race after Corcoran.
On the women’s side, the Cal cross country team finished the 5K course at 16th place with a score of 372. BYU proved to be the superior team across the field, finishing in first place on the women’s side with a score of 37.
Sophomore Annie Boos was the top Bear in action, finishing at 43rd with a time 17:43.30. Freshman Marea Zlatunich finished behind her in 53rd place at 17:50.8. The five freshmen featured in this race exhibited tenacity and patience during testy moments.
After the course’s 1-mile split, Zlatunich was in 76th place, but teamed up with Boos to fight 20 places forward by the time they came to the 4K split.
“This was a good learning experience for our women’s team,” Houlihan said. “In college running, you have to get out in the front quicker and stay out there. It is really hard to move up in a race that has so many bodies in it. They’ll learn from it and get better.”
The Bears were on double duty this weekend — 10 competed Saturday in the Capital Cross Challenge in nearby Sacramento. The men’s team placed 17th, with an overall score of 437 in the 8K race.
Redshirt sophomore Andrew Burkhardt led the Bears, taking 24th place with a time of 25:01.6. In his first tournament after an unfortunate period of injury, redshirt junior Kai Benedict finished at 94th place with a time of 25:56.7. At the 2017 Joe Piane Invitational, Benedict was Cal’s last finisher, but his performance Saturday reveals a promising return to form.
The women’s team achieved 21st place with a score of 560 in the 6K race. Individually, sophomore Meredith Corda was the top Cal standout, finishing at 35th in 22:07.7. Freshman Jasmine He marked her first collegiate competition with a 110th-place finish and a time of 23:20.0.
This young Cal cross country team will now enter the fiercer side of the season with the Santa Clara Bronco Invitational in Sunnyvale, California in two weeks. Once more, older Bears will be expected to exhibit their experience, and younger Bears will be expected to demonstrate their zeal.