Entering the 2003 season, the UCSB men’s cross country team was an unproven bunch and Head Coach Pete Dolan had many doubts about his squad.

When the Gauchos began the year by placing first at the UCSB Lagoon Open, many of Dolan’s fears were put to rest.

“We had question marks on guys, if we were going to be good,” Dolan said. “We answered. We beat Cal Poly.”

Santa Barbara finished with a score of 32. Cal Poly finished a close second with 33. Cal Poly has been ranked 20th in the nation this year.

“We had reasons for him to question us,” senior David Monico said. “On paper there was nothing to talk about.”

The Gauchos spent the off season focused on training.

“Everyone has put in the miles in the off season,” junior Scott Brandos said. “Everything is starting to work out. We are beginning to see the results from all the hard work and training.”

The Gauchos’ second race of the season was at the Riverside Invitational, where they took first place against a tough field. In the team scores, Santa Barbara placed seven runners in the overall top 13.

The most important race of the regular season will be on Oct. 18 at the NCAA Pre-National Meet at University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, IA. There, UCSB’s men’s and women’s teams will face some of the nation’s top squads.

If Santa Barbara places ahead of a top-ranked team, the victory would give the Gauchos the opportunity to earn points toward earning a spot at the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships at the end of the season.

The Gauchos have had different members step up in competition. Senior Chris White took fifth (24:59) at the UCSB Lagoon Open. The following race, junior Jeff Gardina stepped it up and won (24:23.80) the Riverside Invitational.

White is the final remaining member of the 2001squad that went to nationals. He took fourth (24:33.20) at Riverside.

“Chris White has done a lot; he’s our most proven veteran,” Dolan said.

Sophomore Art Avitia has finished second and third for the Gauchos and sixth and eighth overall in those races.

“Art Avitia has been a pleasant surprise, he’s looking smooth as can be,” Dolan said.

Monico has been a steady presence. He has finished third and fifth on the team, and seventh and 14th overall.

“He has been a leader; he’s in the best shape of his life,” Jacobs said.

The fourth spot has been taken by senior Pablo Gallegos in the first two races. He has finished 12th and 13th in the overall standings.

“He has come a long way in the program,” Jacobs said. “He’s done a lot of hard work to get to where he is right now.”

Sophomore Alex Cardiasmenos has taken the fifth and ninth spots in the first two races, respectively. Freshman Mike Chavez has cracked the team’s top eight by snagging the eighth slot at the Lagoon race and seventh position at Riverside.

“They’ve done all the right things this summer,” Dolan said. “We expect improvement from this group that is knowledgeable and fired up.”