Hyped. That word alone describes how the UCSB men’s and women’s cross country teams feel about the Big West Championships. The teams are eager to show the conference what Santa Barbara cross country is all about.

“UCSB cross country is solid,” UCSB Head Coach Pete Dolan said. “We’re the Gaucho identity. We have the belief that we’re a good program. We train hard and we work for it. That’s our team spirit.”

On Saturday the Gauchos will head to UC Riverside for the Big West Championships. The #16 women will face stiff competition from #23 Idaho but expect to win regardless. Although UCSB did not go head to head against Idaho at pre-nationals, the Gauchos’ times would have beaten the Vandals.

“Our goal is to win. There’s no mystery. We’re very good,” Dolan said. “We’re going to run like we have all year: fast from the start.”

Once again, UCSB will face Idaho’s Letiwe Marakurwa, who poses the largest individual threat to the Gauchos. However, last year UCSB senior Stephanie Rothstein overtook Marakurwa to win the Big West Championship title. Rothstein was followed two through four by teammates junior Lauren Christman and seniors Cosette Smith and Desiree Leek. This year the Gauchos will add junior Lindsay Christman; sophomores Hadas Moser and Megan Lewis; and juniors Seanna Martin and Leslie Alexander to the top nine of the lineup.

“There are over 300 teams in Division I cross country. To be in the top 30 means you are an excellent team,” Dolan said. “You have to be on, and we welcome the challenge.”

Dolan feels that the top eight have a shot at All-Conference honors, which are earned by a top-10 finish. The Gauchos have their eyes set on the championship and are not going to settle for less.

The men will take a practical approach to the race and look to a third-place finish. Cal Poly has first place secured, and a second-place finish would be possible but unlikely for the Gauchos. Utah State, Irvine and Long Beach State all have front-runners in the same boat as UCSB.

“I’m proud of this team. They’ve faced injuries, and they’re coming together,” Dolan said.

Sophomore front-runners Chris Ashley and Mike Chavez have a chance to make All-Conference, and solid runs are expected from the other men. Junior Alex Cardiasmenos brings experience to the meet, as does fifth-year senior Jeff Gardina. Last weekend junior Scott Brandos earned his ticket to the Big West meet with a standout performance at the Titan Invitational.

“He took me by surprise, but I shouldn’t have been surprised. He’s been there before and came through big. He’s our X-factor,” Dolan said.

Juniors Ben Berkowitz, JD Krawczyk and Ryan McGinnis and sophomore Stewart Harwell will round out the Gaucho top nine.

“We hope to leave a mark when we leave. Every team asks, ‘What can I leave behind?’ The men want that pride. They want to be known as that team that rose up on championship day,” Dolan said. “The women want to keep the momentum going. They’re the best team UCSB has ever seen. Can you tell I’m hyped?”