All of the hard work, training and preparation has come down to this. The competition will heat up for the UCSB men’s and #15 women’s cross country teams in Indiana this Saturday when they compete in the NCAA Pre-Nationals. This is the first of four critical meets in the cross country arena and the meet Santa Barbara has been training for all season.

The women will go head to head with 80 other teams, 40 in their race alone. The Gauchos will be competing against seven teams in the top 20, including #3 Michigan and #4 Colorado.

“For the first time, we’re a marked team; other teams are going to judge themselves against us,” UCSB Head Coach Pete Dolan said. “You have to guard against a big head and check your ego. But it’s all going in our favor.”

The team has been practicing on various turfs and grasses for the golf course-like terrain. The race poses moderate difficulty to the runners physically, but what sets a high-level team apart from the others is its mental ability and teamwork.

The Gauchos will look for solid performances from seniors Cosette Smith and Desiree Leek and junior Stephanie Rothstein. Smith is expected to run conservatively with a strong finish, and Rothstein has been labeled as an anchor for the team.

“We set the level high. Nationals is the goal,” Dolan said. “We don’t settle and perform our best.”

A less standout finish is expected from the unranked men, who fall in the middle of the lineup. However, the men have shown significant improvement so far this season and continue to gain experience, leadership, confidence and teamwork.

“Out of 40 teams, we’re mid-packers. That’s very respectable,” Dolan said. “Our strength is our workouts and we run as a pack. The guys rely on each other.”

Running as a pack is essential for the men, and Dolan counts on sophomores Chris Ashley and Mike Chavez to step up to the challenge with their leadership. Junior Alex Cardiasmenos is described as the “feel good” member of the team and has really made a difference this year.

“When you’re committed to running as a pack, it’s magic,” Dolan said. “The power of blue and gold together is inspiring. We saw it at Stanford. You stay together and know the power of the pack.”

Senior Jeff Gardina, who is returning from an injury, is racing this weekend, but Dolan has taken the pressure off of him. He hopes Gardina will pull through for the Gauchos but is not forcing anything.

The race takes place at Indiana State University and will feature Gaucho women Smith, Leek, Rothstein, Lauren and Lindsay Christman, Hadas Moser, Seanna Martin, Rebecca Zamolo and Megan Lewis. The men’s entries include Ashley, Chavez, Cardiasmenos, Gardina, Ben Berkowitz, Jason Boyce, JD Krawczyk, Ryan McGinnis and Carter Phelps.

“I think we can pull it off,” Dolan said. “We’re going to get it done this weekend.”