Bears look to close on high note in Sacramento

photo of Cal women's cross country
Phillip Downey/Senior Staff

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Cal cross country is making its final preparations for what is likely to be its last race of the 2021 campaign.

On Friday, the Bears will take to Haggin Oaks Golf Complex in Sacramento, California, for the NCAA West Regional meet. This race comes two weeks after the blue and gold toed the line at the Pac-12 championships, in which the men finished eighth out of nine teams and the women placed ninth out of 12.

The top two teams in the NCAA West Regional will clinch a spot at the national championships, as will the teams that claim the 13 “at-large” spots that are up for grabs. While the Bears could theoretically claim one of the 31 spots available at nationals, this is almost sure to be their last dance of the season given their placement at the Pac-12 championships. Nevertheless, they’ll be giving this race their all and looking to end the year on a high note.

For several members of the team, this regional showdown will be the last race of their collegiate careers. Fifth-year Meredith Corda expressed her excitement at the prospect of wrapping up her cross country career close to home and on a familiar course.

“I love that course,” Corda said. “I won’t lie — it’s going to be really fun. My parents will be there. I just want to smile after the race no matter what happens because it’s my last one.”

The women’s team will be boosted by the presence of senior Marea Zlatunich, who will make her season debut. Zlatunich was Cal’s second finisher at the “2020” Pac-12 championships, which actually took place in March 2021 because of pandemic-induced delays.

Regionals will also mark the second race of the season for graduate student Erin Archibeck, who finished first for the Bears at the 2021 Pac-12 championships in late October. Archibeck joined Cal’s roster this fall after a successful undergraduate career at Notre Dame.

The men, meanwhile, have two seniors — Colin FitzGerald and Jaden Rosenthal — among their top seven this year. FitzGerald is the only member of the Cal men’s team with experience at the regional stage. That said, the young team held its own at the Pac-12 championships, with four scorers being sophomores.

FitzGerald himself was a sophomore when he last took on regionals. At that 2019 installment of the meet, he was the Bears’ first finisher, traversing the 10K course in 31:13. As it was in 2019, this race will be a 10K for the men — 2 kilometers longer than any of their past races this year.

One factor that complicated Cal’s conference championship showing but will mercifully be absent for the team’s regional meet is thin air. After a race up at more than 4,200 feet of elevation at the Pac-12 championships, the Bears will find themselves much closer to sea level this week.

On Friday, Cal will face off against some of the nation’s best talent with a trip to nationals on the line. While it’s probable that the Bears’ season will come to an end in Sacramento, their trip will provide veterans with one last chance to perform on the regional stage, and underclassmen will take part in regionals for the first time. No matter what happens, they’ll look to walk away from Haggin Oaks Golf Complex wearing smiles.

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