The UCSB women’s cross country team landed in the top ten after flying through the grassy, rolling hills of Iowa on Saturday. The women finished ninth and the men took 21st out of 35 teams at the Pre-National Invitational at Irv Warren Park in Waterloo, Iowa.
The men and women’s teams entered the race ranked ninth and fourth in the West Region, respectively, but it was the women who achieved the team goal of breaking into the top 10. The women also upset three teams ranked in the nation’s top 30: #14 Baylor, #18 William & Mary and #30 Toledo.
“It is the women’s highest finish ever and we’re breaking new ground. But, we can still run better. We have a higher potential yet,” Assistant Head Coach Jeff Jacobs said.
Sophomore Lauren Christman finished 31st out of 210 runners, one of her best races as a Gaucho, with a time of 21:09. Fellow sophomore Stephanie Rothstein passed Baylor’s top three runners in the final mile to take 35th overall with 21:14. Team captain junior Cosette Smith pulled out of an early struggle to finish 47th with at total time of 21:43.
“It was one of my best races in history,” Rothstein said. “I ran exactly how I wanted. It felt so good. I dug down deep inside and gave it everything I had.”
Jacobs was extremely pleased with the women’s performance and believes that it took great races from the entire team to achieve their goal.
“All top three women ran really well. All of them make the team score happen,” Jacobs said.
The women also have a chance at the National Championships as long as they continue to run as well as they did on Saturday.
“If we run to our full potential, we have a shot at [nationals],” Rothstein said.
For the men, the race was not as triumphant. The men also hoped for a finish in the eighth to 10th range, but had to settle with a disappointing 21st. Jacobs explained that the team did not have “a very good grouping” and the top five runners did not compete as well as he had expected.
“We just had sub-par races. It was our first big race and we didn’t do so well,” senior Jeff Gardina said. “We got the experience of what we shouldn’t do, so now we know for the future.”
Gardina finished 60th out of 245, the highest of the Gauchos, with a time of 24:38. Only two other Gauchos cracked the top 100, seniors Chris White at 69th and Pablo Gallegos at 99th. Freshman Mike Chavez deserves recognition for stepping up and finishing 116th at 25:16, the fourth best Gaucho in his first major cross country meet.
“When I saw our man fall back, I had to really focus and I just kept passing people,” Chavez said.
The men must compete strongly in the next races if they want a chance at nationals. However, now the Gauchos have more experience against top-ranked competitors.
“The odds are not good, but there’s still a chance,” Gardina said.
The Gauchos’ next meet will be the Titan Invitational this Friday, Oct. 24 at Carbon Canyon Park in Brea. Then, on Nov. 1, the team will head to Riverside for the Big West Championship.