Cal cross country readies for ‘rustbuster’ USF Invitational

photo of 2 Cal cross country runners running
Phillip Downey/Senior Staff

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Asked to describe the Cal cross country team’s approach to its imminent season opener at the USF Invitational, sophomore Claire Yerby and senior Moises Medrano used the same word: “Rustbuster.”

The meet, which is staged in Golden Gate Park, has served as the Bears’ first race every year since 2004, with the exception of last season. Historically, it’s been an opportunity for the men’s and women’s teams to run as a unit and acclimate to the distance and strain of cross country races with little to gain or lose.

Medrano, who ran at the USF Invitational in both 2018 and 2019, described Cal’s game plan going into its annual appearance at the meet.

“The (men’s and women’s) teams usually go out and tempo together, and then for maybe the last 2K those who are feeling better and more fit can let off and see how far up they can finish,” Medrano said. “We have a pretty chill mentality going into it.”

The stakes are low, but anticipation is high; the Bears are eager to make their fall 2021 debut, to cash in summer morning miles for pairs of flats and a singlet. Beyond that, the USF Invitational will serve as a valuable introduction to collegiate cross country for younger members of the team — many of whom will be racing distances with which they are currently unacquainted. The men and women will be running 8K and 6K, respectively, up from the traditional 5K run in high school races.

Yerby, who has yet to compete in collegiate cross country after opting to exclusively run track in the spring of her freshman year, is eager to make her debut at the 6K distance on a course she became familiar with while racing for Half Moon Bay High School.

“I’m really excited to take on a new distance. The training that we’ve been doing is very beneficial for cross country,” Yerby said. “This is the fifth distance I’ve run on this course, or at least in the general vicinity, so I know the area which is nice.”

After competing for a high school program, which at times had as few as five runners, Yerby is particularly looking forward to working with a pack of teammates during Cal’s season opener.

“Having seven-plus girls that I either live with or train with and hang out with all the time is going to be a comforting experience during the race because I know all the work they’ve put in and all the work I’ve put in and that we’re ready,” Yerby said.

On the heels of a postponed and abbreviated “2020” season that actually took place earlier this year, the blue and gold will be kicking off a full fall cross country season for the first time since 2019. A number of underclassmen will be getting their first exposure to college race distances, while upperclassmen will be returning to cross country as usual after a turbulent year and a half.

As laid back as the USF Invitational may be, Cal is approaching it with a sense of purpose and palpable enthusiasm. Without another race until Oct. 1, the Bears will be free to focus on the task at hand this weekend: shaking off the rust.

Ethan Moutes covers cross country. Contact him at [email protected].