The UCSB men’s cross country team answered several questions at the Stanford Invitational this weekend.

With its full team racing for the first time this season, Saturday’s race in Palo Alto, Calif. was a good indicator of the team’s progress thus far, as well as a first look at the team’s potential. The Gauchos came away with a strong third place finish in a field of 32 teams, trailing only fourth-in-the-nation Stanford and contender Chico. As Pre-Nationals start Oct. 15, Santa Barbara is positioning itself well to make a run for a spot in Nationals.

“This race was basically just telling us where we were at and what we needed to work on to get to Pre-Nats,” junior Mike Chavez said. “We ran sort of conservatively so we saved a lot more energy – we made sure that we caught people along the way toward the end and had a lot left over.”

Throughout most of the race, the Gauchos ran as a team, with a large group working together to gain position. As they approached the three-mile mark, UCSB found itself toward the back of the pack with the landmark uphill part of the course looming. Led by juniors Chavez and Chris Ashley, the Gauchos began to make their move.

Chavez and Ashley worked together up front, eventually moving into the top-20. Ashley came away with the individual best for the Gauchos; finishing 10th overall with a time of 24:10, a personal best. Right behind him was Chavez, who finished 11th at 24:17. Seeing its top two juniors Ashley and Chavez in stellar form is sure to be a major positive for UCSB as it heads into Pre-Nationals.

The Gauchos also received great efforts from their seniors – Scott McConville, who finished 24th overall at 24:39, Scott Brandos, who came in 30th at 24:45 and Alex Cardiasmenos at 24:51, good for 35th overall. Solid contributions from its veterans will be key for UCSB if it wants to push itself onto the national scene.

“I see [Ashley and myself] as leaders by example,” Chavez said. “We have some great seniors like Scott [McConville] who are more vocal leaders on this team.”

Santa Barbara also got its first look of the season at junior Micah Tyhurst, the Gauchos All-Conference distance runner from the track and field season, who missed the first two races to injury. Tyhurst finished 47th overall with a time of 25:05, and looked to be rounding into form health-wise.

Saturday’s third place finish met expectations for UCSB, as national powerhouse Stanford came away with first as projected with 51 points and a strong Chico team finished second with 66 points. The Gauchos were not far off the pace, however, as they finished with a score of 105, 39 points ahead of regional rival Berkeley.

Santa Barbara now turns its attention to preparing for Pre-Nationals in three weeks.