The UCSB women’s cross country team finished in second place at the Big West Championship Saturday, losing out to Irvine, whose women took three of the top six finishes. Junior Bethany Nickless and senior Seanna Martin took home All-Conference honors, finishing fifth and seventh respectively to pace the Gauchos, who still finished ahead of Big West rivals Long Beach, Northridge and Riverside.
“It was kind of a disappointment because we really wanted to get first place,” Nickless said. “But UCI ran very well and we couldn’t keep up with their race plan.”
Nickless finished with a time of 21:23 on the six-kilometer course and Martin came in four seconds behind her to finish in 21:27. The two were both awarded All-Conference honors, the first of either of their careers.
One of the highlights of the race was the continued improvement of standout freshmen Liza Hitchner and Danielle Domenichelli, who finished 15th and 16th in 21:57 and 21:58 as the Gauchos’ third and fourth runners. Head Coach Pete Dolan said before the season started that the team might have to rely on good performances from its freshmen, and the two have not disappointed thus far.
“Our two freshmen [Hitchner] and [Domenichelli] really ran well together,” Nickless said. “They’ve really been stepping up after our top-four girls had to sit out.”
Senior Leslie Alexander finished the Gaucho scoring, finishing 23rd overall in 22:15. The Gauchos finished with 66 total points, behind Irvine’s 29, but ahead of Long Beach’s 75. The finish was made more disappointing by the fact that the Gauchos finished ahead of Irvine at the Stanford Invitational two weeks ago.
Although the team was denied its bid for a third-straight Big West title, the loss overshadows a successful season for the Gauchos, who were without their top four runners a year after being ranked 17th in the nation. Under Dolan, the program has risen to national prominence, and Dolan says he feels his team can compete for a top-10 ranking next year.
“I think next year will be an awesome season,” Nickless said. “We’ll get our top four girls back, and with the way our younger girls have improved, we should be in a really good position to do well.”
The Gauchos now begin training for the NCAA West Regional Championships on November 12th, where they will be looking to get back at Irvine for the conference loss.
“I just want to make up for conference and go out there and run the best race that I can,” Nickless said. “A lot of us feel like we want to go out and have really good races to get some revenge against Irvine.”
The Gauchos would need to finish in the top two at Regionals to qualify for the NCAA National Championship. Without their top four runners, the team is a long shot to upset Stanford or Arizona State, who are favored in the NCAA West, but the team will be looking to make a statement at the race all the same.
“We might not knock off Stanford and Arizona State, but I think we still have a shot at going out and running well and surprising a lot of teams,” Nickless said.