The UCSB women’s “B” cross country team finished in a three-way tie with UCLA and Pepperdine at the Titan Invitational last Friday in Brea’s Carbon Canyon Park. Freshman Bethany Nickless finished seventh overall, the best Gaucho time and a personal season best. On the men’s side, sophomore Ben Berkowitz and freshman Micah Tyhurst also ran well.

“I am very pleased with the women’s team and with Bethany. It was a good way to finish her first year. It was her best time this season,” UCSB Assistant Head Coach Jeff Jacobs said.

The next six Santa Barbara runners all finished in the women’s top 22. Sophomore Laura Zung (15th) and freshmen Whitney Jacobsmeyer (16th), Ariane Burwell (17th), Christie Farson (19th), Hadas Moser (21st) and Alisa Gammon (22nd) all scored points for the Gauchos.

While the men did not receive a team score, Berkowitz finished 15th overall and Tyhurst crossed the line at 17th. Jacobs even decided to run with his team, entering the open race as an unattached, finishing the highest of all the Gauchos at sixth.

“I still train and compete on my own, so I thought I’d enter,” Jacobs said.

The Gauchos rested their top ten runners on both the men’s and women’s teams in preparation for this Saturday’s Big West Championship in Riverside. Nine of the ten will compete on the flat, dirt course that runs through orange groves.

The women, now ranked fourth in the Big West after their recent ninth place finish at Pre-Nationals, are the favorite to win. UCSB has not won the title since 1996 and has been building up a championship team for the last two years. The Gauchos feel that this year could water the drought.

The only threat comes from the defending champion University of Idaho Vandals, who also have the defending individual champion, junior Letiwe Marakurwa. The Gauchos hope to place their top three women, sophomore Lauren Christman, sophomore Stephanie Rothstein and junior Cosette Smith, within the top six. All three have the chance to go All-Conference.

“We have improved a lot, being ranked 23rd nationally. One goal was to win the Big West and we are in that position now. It’s what we have been dreaming about and that’s exciting,” Jacobs said. “This would be a big step up to be able to say ‘We are the team to beat.'”

The men will have to battle with defending champions Utah State for second place behind Cal Poly. Cal Poly is currently ranked 16th in the nation and will most likely claim the top spot. The UCSB men, however, performed well on this course earlier in the season and are able to run fast on the terrain.

The men are looking to junior Jeff Gardina and team captain senior Chris White to finish high up in the standings. Gardina has finished amongst the top Gauchos in his last three races, and White has the most experience in big races. The biggest individual threats are Utah State’s Mike Nielson and Cal Poly’s Sean Ricketts, who finished second and third, respectively, in the last year’s championship.

“It’s a toss up between Cal Poly and Utah State. Cal Poly could have a bad run. I feel second would be great,” Jacobs said. “But if the men win [and beat Cal Poly], that would be a huge upset.”

The Big West Championship will take place this Saturday at the Riverside Agricultural Operations Course, beginning at 8:30 a.m.