Bears end season at regionals, expect greater success next fall

Photo of Shane Bissell of Cal Cross Country
Kelley Cox/KLC Fotos/Courtesy

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Last Friday’s NCAA Western Regional was the Bears’ final race of the season. While football fans gear up for the Big Game this weekend, the cross country team will be doing the exact opposite as it enjoys some much-needed rest and relaxation.

This season had its ups and its downs, but through it all, the team was able to grow and overcome the challenges it faced.

Head coach Bobby Lockhart was new to the team this year, and with a new coach comes a period of adjustment, as the team has to adapt to a different style. Luckily for Cal, Lockhart has been supportive and dedicated to helping the Bears succeed, fostering a team culture focused on working well together as a team rather than being competitive with one another.

“Bobby has done a great job. He’s been a supportive coach, both mentally and physically. He picks up the phone whenever I call,” said redshirt sophomore Mina Anglero.

Speaking of Anglero, the Norwegian had an outstanding season that shocked everyone, including herself.

“I went beyond my own expectations of myself. I’ve never raced cross country before, so I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t have any expectations going into it,” Anglero said.

The redshirt sophomore placed first overall for women at the UC Davis Cross Country Invitational in September. This is not only an outstanding feat for any runner to accomplish, but doubly impressive considering that it was Anglero’s first cross country race ever.

Anglero was the first woman to finish from Cal at every race she ran in. She missed individually qualifying for NCAA nationals, but she has several more years left in her racing career to accomplish even greater things.

The ups of the season come from individual performances from top runners. Anglero, sophomore Marea Zlatunich and junior Annie Boos consistently had strong performances all season long.

Redshirt sophomore Brie Oakley began the season at the Pac-12 championships. Oakley started late due to injury, but once she ramped it up, her 2019 was as short and sweet as fans hoped it would be. She finished in the top five women from Cal in every race she ran in. Next season should be her time in the spotlight. With so many talented sophomores, the women are sure to come back even stronger next year.

One of the letdowns of the season was the women’s team struggling to run cohesively as a pack at every race.

“We’ve all been a little spread out, and running together really helps in cross country,” Anglero said.

What the women find challenging is one of the men’s greatest strengths. Sophomore Colin Fitzgerald, junior Steven Khan, redshirt freshman Trevor Woodward and redshirt junior Ben Harper all finished with solid pack times at every race. They worked together well and the places they finished in for the team were practically interchangeable.

The men struggled with inexperience this season, as their roster was mostly underclassmen. The top six runners from last year’s season all graduated, leaving the team to build from the ground up. Their coaches termed 2019 a “building year” for the men, modifying their workouts to help them build endurance and learn to run longer races. This approach showed in their results, but 2019 was about the future, not the present, for Cal men’s cross country.

Another challenge the team as a whole faced was treating every race with equal intensity. At the start of the season, Cal held back as part of a training plan put together by Lockhart. As the season got into full swing, a few runners felt like there was some lost potential at invitationals prior to NCAA regionals.

“The last race (NCAA regionals) was the best overall because everyone knew that it was the last race, so they raced like there was nothing to leave behind. In other races we’ve been more passive, so we could have executed better,” Anglero said.

Instead of spending Friday in a different state preparing to race like they did last week, the team is holding a “Friendsgiving” dinner, proving that their team bond lasts out of season.