With the season winding down, the UCSB cross country team will head to Regionals on Saturday in hopes of wrapping up a bid to the National Championships.
The #22 men’s team is coming off a disappointing second place finish to Cal Poly at the Big West Championships, but this weekend’s race will provide the Gauchos with another shot at their rivals from up north. UCSB’s average time at Big West was actually a second and a half faster than Cal Poly’s average, but, because of the scoring system, the Gauchos came up short in their quest for their first conference title since 2001.
“[Cal Poly] took care of business by beating us one-on-one, but in a big group race we would have beat them just by the times we ran,” Head Coach Pete Dolan said. “We have to run just like we did last weekend.”
With the loss, the Gauchos dropped from third to fifth in the West Region rankings, but with a strong race on Saturday, the men will be able to qualify for Nationals. Led by seniors Mike Chavez and Chris Ashley and juniors J.D. Krawczyk and Micah Tyhurst, the Gauchos have put in several top performances this year to boost their Nationals resume.
“It was discouraging that we didn’t win the conference championship but if we run as fast as we did at [Cal Poly], I’m really confident that we’ll get a bid to the national championships,” Dolan said.
The #7 women’s team received some additional good news this week when senior Lauren Christman was named the Big West Cross Country Women’s Athlete of the Year, after setting a course record on the way to her second Big West title. Christman achieved the same recognition in 2004, making her the first two-time winner of the award since 1993. Dolan also picked up some hardware, as he was named Big West Women’s Coach of the Year for the sixth time in his career.
The women’s team can afford to run conservatively for their sixth consecutive race, as the Gauchos have been nationally ranked since winning the Roy Griak Invitational in September. After winning their third conference title in four years, the Gauchos maintained their spot as the #2 team in the West Region.
“The women are looking solid. We have a chance to run fast and maybe not have to race all out, which is great in a qualifying situation,” Dolan said. “That back against the wall situation hasn’t existed for this team. That’s what the good teams get to do; they get to save up for Nationals.”
Regionals will give the Gaucho women their first real look at a Stanford team that has been the unanimous top-ranked team in the country all season long. The Gauchos’ B-team finished 11th at the Stanford Invitational earlier this season, as Dolan let his top runners rest that weekend in preparation for Pre-Nationals.
The NCAA West Regionals will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday, in Portland, Oregon.