Changing with the seasons: Cal cross country set for Sac State Invite

photo of UC Berkeley cross country runners
Phillip Downey/Senior Staff

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It’s been a while since Cal cross country kicked off its season at the USF Invite in Golden Gate Park — in fact, it’s been nearly a month. Since the morning of Sept. 4, the Bears have begun to adopt a new approach that coincides with the changing of the seasons.

“We’ve done a bit more speed workout type training,” said senior Jessica Nye regarding the team’s preparation for this Friday’s Sacramento State Invite. “Leading up to San Francisco, we did a lot more tempo, long-distance efforts, but (Coach Bobby Lockhart) has been trying to tailor us more for our kicks. So we’ve been working more on the actual track and not a dirt track.”

Granted, this has not been a dramatic shift. Like the transition from summer into fall, this transition is a gradual one. Cal approached the USF Invite as a rust buster and will take the line at the Sac State Invite with only slightly more anticipation.

“This is sort of like ‘Rust Buster Part Two,’ ” Nye said. “There’s a little bit more pressure, but not anything crazy. We still view this as practice.”

One important difference between this meet and the USF Invite will be that the women’s team should be able to field enough runners to post a team score. At its season-opening meet, the Bears only had four women competing — one short of the number needed to score.

Running as a pack of four presented a unique challenge for the women’s team at the USF Invite, and while it was a challenge that the group overcame admirably, its absence will be welcome as more competitors donning the blue and gold join the fray this Friday.

Nye and fifth-year Meredith Corda were the only two team members with collegiate cross country experience who participated in this year’s USF Invite. Despite the unusually small unit they ran with, both earned course PRs.

“It was exciting just to get out there,” Nye said. “A lot of us hadn’t raced in a while, and that’s a fun course. All the other girls — (Corda), Piper (Wilson), Claire (Yerby) — and I weren’t used to racing in such a small group, but we managed to hold it together.”

In her expectations and goals for this Friday’s Sac State Invite, Nye remains relaxed.

“Honestly, my goal is maintaining a similar mindset to the one we had for USF, which is going into it not really overthinking,” Nye said. “When we went into that race, just relaxed and confident in our fitness, we were able to stick together for a long time and have good races individually. If we just keep that mindset, things will go well.”

The men’s team will also enter Friday’s contest looking to replicate its strong showing at the USF Invite. Led by senior Colin FitzGerald, the Bears looked fierce at Golden Gate Park. In fact, there was only a 34-second gap between FitzGerald and Cal’s fifth and final scorer, junior Daniel Winek. While a gap that small was in part a byproduct of the Bears’ laid-back approach to the USF Invite, having such a tight pack in any race setting is encouraging and demonstrative of the Bears’ talent across the boards.

Sophomore Garrett MacQuiddy also served as a source of encouragement as he finished second on the team in just his first collegiate cross country outing.

The Bears’ preparation — both physically and mentally — is slowly but surely changing with the seasons. As leaves sport new colors, shedding their summer attire to don an autumnal hue, Cal cross country trades high-mileage workouts for a more speed-centric regimen. It embraces a pressure that intensifies with each passing meet. The Sac State Invite is the next step in the Bears’ transition and tune-up for later, more meaningful contests.

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