Cal to take strong start to Stump Invitational

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The Bears kicked off 2019 after an off-season of change. New head coach Bobby Lockhart took the reigns of the program over the summer after a stint at the University of North Carolina and a decorated tenure with an Oklahoma State team that became a national powerhouse.

After a 2018 season that saw a youthful team fail to qualify for nationals, the Bears will begin again with new goals and more experience.

Despite the loss of last year’s star runner Garrett Corcoran, who qualified for the NCAA Championships four years in a row, the Cal men’s cross country team joined the women in starting off 2019 on the front foot.

Both teams took first place at the USF Invitational. Even though no individual runner was able to crack the top three, the depth exhibited was more than enough for the Bears to capture season opening victories. Every scoring runner, for both the men and the women, finished inside the top 20. The women’s team, which was ranked 14th in the West region’s preseason poll, was particularly impressive, taking five of the top 12 spots.

Friday sees Cal journeying inland, as UC Davis will host the first annual Stump Invitational, created in honor of Aggies legend Sarah “Stump” Sumpter.

The Bears will face much of the same opposition, as other local teams will make the short trip to Wildhorse Golf Club for the evening meet. Their most talented opposition will be USF who, despite losing to the Bears two weeks ago, was ranked above Cal entering the season.

St. Mary’s, Chico State, Pacific, Santa Clara and, of course, UC Davis will also field athletes.

While a high team finish will surely be a target for this up-and-coming Cal team, the priority will still be working through early season jitters and improving times.

Freshman Cassy Haskell made her debut for the Bears at the USF Invitational and came in fourth, running 22:01.6. Sophomore Marea Zlatunich finished less than a second behind Haskell. Both will likely look to break 22 minutes in the upcoming meet.

They will be deprived of top competition from San Francisco, as Aoible Richardson, who finished more than 20 seconds ahead of both Bears at the USF Invitational, will not be competing at the Stump Invitational.

The Cal men, on the other hand, will have concrete targets to chase. Sophomore Ben Harper finished just three seconds behind UC Davis’ Nicholas Brichta at the USF Invitational, and both will meet again on the course Friday. The Bears will also clash with multiple runners from San Francisco for the second time this season.

Ultimately, those speedy opponents will present concrete goals for the Bears to chase down, as they seek to better their times and push toward their eventual goal of qualifying for nationals. After an ideal start to the 2019 season in San Francisco, Cal will target continued improvement at UC Davis’ Stump Invitational.

Jasper Sundeen is the assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].