The pressures of midterm season have many students wishing they could simply run away from their problems. For the Cal cross country team, however, running is the pressure — and like midterms, the task at hand won’t be simple, either.
This Saturday will have the Bears splitting up once again between Sunnyvale, California, and Madison, Wisconsin, for the Santa Clara Bronco Invitational and the 2018 Wisconsin Pre-Nationals.
According to the most recent Division I National Coaches’ Poll, the men’s West Region ranking dropped three positions from their previous standing, from ninth to 12th. One month ago, the women’s side was ranked No. 21 in the nation, but they have now completely dropped from the rankings.
Although the goal of each cross country competition is always to walk (or more accurately, run) away on top, both events will serve as significant learning experiences for the Bears. The Santa Clara event will likely expose newer, younger team members to the competition experience, and the Wisconsin Pre-Nationals will introduce top Bears to the race course and to elite competitors they will be facing off with again at the NCAA Championship on Nov. 17.
The Wisconsin Pre-Nationals will comprise the “Cardinal” and “White” races for both men and women; Cal will run in the “Cardinal” races. Both are evenly seeded races in which the women will run 6K, followed by the men’s 8K races.
The men will race against top seeds (determined by an impartial seeding committee): No. 1 Northern Arizona, No. 3 Wisconsin and No. 5 Stanford. Although unseeded coming into the competition, Wyoming and Furman finished second and fourth at the Joe Piane Invitational (where Cal finished in 13th place) and will present themselves as a threat as well.
“This is the first cross country season I’ve had that I feel comfortable running in the front of races,” graduate student Garrett Corcoran said. “I put in more miles than I ever have over the summer, and I’ve notched the first two top-10 performances of my career at the first two races.”
The women will be up against No. 1 Colorado, No. 4 Oregon, No. 7 Arkansas and No. 9 BYU. The Cougars finished in first place on both men’s and women’s sides at the Joe Piane Invitational.
The Wisconsin Pre-Nationals will also allow the Bears to familiarize themselves with the Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course. The course notably involves a 2,500-meter exterior loop and a 1,000-meter interior loop on terrain that features rolling hills and valleys.
Although the course demands strenuous physical patience, the Bears and their competitors will at least be treated to a visual feast — the course’s outside loop includes a notable section of woodlands vibrantly tinted by autumn’s presence.
“We raced this course last year and know it is deceivingly hilly, so we’ve prepared ourselves to maintain our strength and speed over the hills,” Corcoran said. “We’ve also got to be prepared to have our rhythm broken a lot throughout the race, since there will be about 300 men on the course with us, and it will get crowded jockeying for position.”
This weekend’s Santa Clara Bronco Invitational will see the team’s upperclassmen act as leaders for younger runners while head coach Shayla Houlihan travels to Wisconsin.
In Sunnyvale, the men will run an 8K course while the women will run a 6K course, challenged by the likes of Cal Poly, Idaho and San Jose State — all ranked in the West Region.
“I think it will be a solid race, as I was coming off a calf issue for the first meet and had some shaky training beforehand,” senior Kai Benedict said. “The course is very fast, and I think the second meet of the season is always easier to handle.”
In sports, experience gained can often be just as significant as results. Thus, this weekend will be a rewarding opportunity for the Bears, regardless of how they perform.
“I’m trying to go into the race without too many expectations or goals besides staying focused and pushing myself,” sophomore Meredith Corda said. “As for the team, I hope we can all continue to improve and learn from each race.”