Bears brave altitude, battle at Pac-12 championships

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Phillip Downey/Senior Staff

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To express that cross country is a brutal sport feels trite, but the universality of knowledge of a fact does not detract from its validity.

With a Pac-12 title on the line, that brutality is only exacerbated. Add on the fact that this year’s conference championships were located in Salt Lake City, Utah, which is over 4,200 feet above sea level, and you have a formula for a formidable challenge.

In the face of such a challenge, Cal cross country fought valiantly this past weekend. While the Bears may not have placed quite as they’d sought to — eighth out of nine teams on the men’s side and ninth out of 12 on the women’s — silver linings abound from the team’s trip to Utah.

Sophomore Garrett MacQuiddy, the top finisher on Cal’s men’s team, reflected on what kept the group just shy of achieving its goals while articulating his pride in his team’s performance.

“We went out a little bit too slow,” MacQuiddy said. “We underestimated how fast the race was going to go out, so towards the end we ran out of people to pass, but overall I’m happy with how we did. We were pretty close to where we expected to be.”

Led by MacQuiddy’s 34th place finish, Cal was just four points shy of topping Arizona State and 19 away from UCLA, which means that what turned out to be an eighth place finish was quite nearly a sixth place showing. Beyond those reassuring numbers, MacQuiddy was quick to point out that the Bears have youth on their side and thus a promising future.

“We obviously wanted to be close to UCLA and we wanted to beat Arizona State and that didn’t end up happening,” MacQuiddy said. “But overall it was a great learning experience — especially given that four of our five scorers are freshmen and for three of us it was our first time at the conference meet.”

Indeed, MacQuiddy and fellow scorers Carrick Denker, Gabe Abbes and Cole Sawires Yager are all freshmen when accounting for eligibility adjustments made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Colin FitzGerald, a senior, was the Bears’ third finisher.

MacQuiddy also touched on the role that altitude played.

“We had never done anything that was similar to that race, 100% effort at 4,200 feet and with so many people in the race, so we hit a wall around 2 kilometers to go,” MacQuiddy said. “As for myself, I had a side stitch with about 1.5 to go but I was able to hold on.”

For Colorado, which won both the men’s and women’s races, the elevation did not seem to be a problem — that’s no coincidence given that Boulder sits at over 5,000 feet above sea level. Most teams were without that advantage, though. Mina Anglero of the women’s team elaborated on the difficulty of racing up where the air is thinner.

“There’s a lot for us to take away from this race,” Anglero said. “When we talked after crossing the finish line, we were like, how many times did we talk to ourselves during the race and ask, ‘Am I going to opt out, am I going to just stop?’ It was a really painful race, so I really wanted to emphasize to all the girls that, wow, good job, we actually finished that.”

Anglero scored for the Bears, helping them to a ninth place finish ahead of Arizona State, USC and Arizona. Erin Archibeck, Meredith Corda, Jessica Nye and Claire Yerby joined her in scoring.

Given how her team handled its particularly taxing race this past weekend, Anglero is eager to take on the NCAA West Regional meet Nov. 12, which will be the Bears’ next (and likely final) race of the season.

“I want us to focus on enjoying the process of running and competing and feeling that we’re running as a team together to successfully be able to use each other and run as a pack as we’ve been aiming to do in the last couple meets,” Anglero said. “Those are the two most important things to me right now.”

After surviving a formidable challenge at the Pac-12 championships in Utah this weekend, the Bears will be ready for whatever that next race throws at them.

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