Experience is a key edge that UCSB cross country Head Coach Pete Dolan hopes to exploit this season as both the men’s and women’s teams are returning the majority of their top runners from the 2005 season.

For a men’s squad that has been picked to finish 2nd behind Cal Poly, Dolan has the advantage of returning his top three runners from last season: seniors Chris Ashley, Mike Chavez and Micah Tyhurst.

“We are a better match than we have ever been since 2001, when we last beat [Cal Poly, in the Big West championships],” Dolan said. “That’s a long time to go without beating a team.”

The Gaucho’s top returnee is Ashley, who last year finished 6th overall in the 5,000-meter at the NCAA West Regional finals and also won the Big West Individual Championship. His teammates Chavez and Tyhurst were both named cross country All-Big West athletes in 2005.

“We have a good front three with [Ashley, Chavez], and Tyhurst,” Dolan said. “We are counting on those three and their experience. However, on any given day Chavez and Tyhurst can run with [Ashley].”

At the UC Irvine Invitational, the Gauchos managed to place their three front men in the top ten, with Chavez (24:51.5), Ashley (25:05.4) and Tyhurst (25:11.6) finishing 2nd, 5th and 7th respectively. Chavez’s efforts at the UCI meet earned him the Golden1/ucsbgauchos.com Student-Athlete of the Week.

On the women’s squad, the Gauchos have three seniors returning from a red-shirt year. Seniors Lindsay and Lauren Christman, and Stephanie Rothstein return to lead a Gaucho squad that was picked to win the Big West in the preseason coach’s poll for the third time in the last four years.

“I’ve never had a team with this much experience,” Dolan said. “Stephanie, Megan [Lewis], and Lauren all have two years track experience at the national level.”

Already this season, Rothstein is making a statement with her return. In the Alumni/Community meet, the All-American Rothstein finished the five-kilometer course with a time of 17.28.3, breaking the 17:40 course record that was set in 2001 by Gaucho Alumna Katie Appenrodt.

“Everything is as good as she could be,” Dolan said. “The record she broke [in the Alumni/Community meet] was held by an All-American. It was a great indicator of how her season can go.”

In addition to the Pre-Nationals meet held in October, the Gauchos have two other large invitationals to prepare for that will take place in September: the Roy Griak Invitational on the 23rd, a meet that will gain the Gauchos nationwide interest if they perform well, and the Stanford Invitational on the 30th. For now, though, the Gauchos will take their experience and run with it.

“We were a good team for years” Dolan said. “To become a great team, we are still searching for that secret. But most great teams do have experience.”