Imagine standing at the finish line of a cross country race, focusing on the crest of a hill. You wait in anticipation to see who leads the pack. A runner comes slightly in view, eyes straining in the bright sunlight. You expect her to be the defending champion from Idaho. Instead, it is a Gaucho uniform speeding ahead. Now cresting the hill is another UCSB uniform, then a third and a fourth. Crowds scream as the UCSB women win the Big West Championship, taking the top four spots. This was the dream. Now it is the reality.
The UCSB women’s cross country team claimed first place in the Big West Championship on Saturday for the first time since 1996. The men’s team took second place at the meet. The race, originally scheduled for Riverside, relocated to Fairbanks Memorial Cross Country Course in San Luis Obispo due to the wildfires in the Southland.
The women’s team dominated the competition, taking the top four spots individually. Sophomore Stephanie Rothstein crossed the finish line first, upsetting defending champion Letiwe Marakurwa of the University of Idaho. Marakurwa dropped out of the race because of exhaustion with less than half a mile to go. This allowed Women’s Cross Country Big West Athlete of the Year Rothstein to charge ahead, taking the title. Sophomore Lauren Christman rolled through 13 seconds later to claim second place. Juniors Cosette Smith and Desiree Leek rounded out the top four, taking third and fourth respectively. All four women received All-Conference honors.
“I couldn’t have done it without my teammates,” Rothstein said. “It could have been any one of us. Any day we could rise up and [Saturday] it was me. I was just an extension of our team.”
Utah State University took second place honors, 38 points behind UCSB. Defending champions University of Idaho finished third overall, 47 points behind the Gauchos. The UCSB women are ranked 23rd in the nation, fourth in the West region, and hope to make it to nationals.
“This is a turning point in history for [UCSB women’s cross country] and marks the beginning of something that will continue in the future,” Rothstein said. “It will get the ball rolling for something big.”
The men also achieved what they set out to do. Realizing the talent of the 16th ranked team in the country, Cal Poly, the Santa Barbara men set their hopes for second place. A bout of food poisoning forced senior co-captain Chris White out of the race but junior Jeff Gardina and fifth year senior Pablo Gallegos stepped up to the challenge, filling the void and leading the Gauchos across the finish line. Gardina finished fourth behind Cal Poly’s top three runners: Sean Ricketts, Ryan Moorcroft and Mario Macias. Gallegos finished eighth and received his first ever All-Conference honor. Gardina also finished with All-Conference honors.
“I was really happy with my performance. I’ve come a long way since I’ve been here and improved a lot,” Gallegos said. “It’s a great honor [to go All-Conference]. It feels really good to be recognized.”
UC Irvine took third place honors behind Cal Poly and UCSB. The UCSB men are currently ranked 10th in the West region.
Both the UCSB men and women will travel to Portland, Ore. on Nov. 15th for the West Regional Championships. A first or second place finish earns an automatic invitation to the NCAA National Championship at the end of November. Yet a high finish for the Gauchos may also allow the women’s squad entrance to nationals through an at-large bid. The women will face some stiff competition from #1 Stanford, UCLA and Arizona State at the West Regionals.