As wild as your weekend may have been, the UCSB men’s cross country team had quite a crazy weekend of its own at the Big West Championships in Riverside.
In a finish that came down to the wire, the Gauchos were just barely edged out by unanimous conference-favorite #27 Cal Poly, finishing only 14 points behind. Junior Chris Ashley captured the individual Big West title, pulling a dominant 12 seconds ahead of the field in the last 8,000 meters.
Coming into the race, it was widely expected that Cal Poly and UCSB were a lock to finish first and second, respectively. As the race progressed, it turned into the duel everyone wanted to see as 16 of the top-17 spots were occupied by the two favorites.
“We came as close as we could on the day,” Assistant Coach David Monico said. “We knew that if Cal Poly slipped at all, we would have a chance but they didn’t slip at all and we definitely made them work for it.”
Ashley and junior Mike Chavez, who have been the stars for the Gauchos this season, began to move their way up to the top 10, as did senior Alex Cardiasmenos, who was having one of his best performances of the season. The final mile became an intense battle between UCSB and Cal Poly runners, as Ashley and Chavez continued their push to the front of the pack. In the last 800 meters, Ashley made a daring move to the front of the pack and exploded to the finish, leaving the rest of the field 12 seconds behind and setting an unofficial course record of 23:51.
“[Ashley] did not have a good race for himself at Pre-Nationals finishing 79th,” Monico said. “But he definitely stayed focused these last two weeks and he is as mentally tough as they come.”
Chavez and Cardiasmenos battled Cal Poly runners until the end, but the potent finishing power of the Mustangs landed four of their runners in the top seven and gave them the victory. Chavez finished fifth overall with a time of 24:03 and Cardiasmenos was only a second behind and finished seventh with a time 24:04, which gave him his first All-Conference Award. Only two seconds separated second place from seventh.
The final results found the Gauchos 14 points behind Cal Poly with a score of 24-38; Long Beach finished a distant third with 89 points. Adding to the second-place effort for Santa Barbara were junior Micah Tyhurst, senior Scott Brandos and junior Mike Powers, who occupied spots 12-14, finishing with times of 24:26, 24:34 and 24:39, respectively.
Saturday’s performance was a strong rebound from the Gacuhos’ 20th place letdown at Pre-Nationals two weeks ago. UCSB will try to carry over its effort from the Big West Championships into the West Regional Championships on Nov. 12.