As two of the most unsung athletic teams at UCSB, the men’s and women’s cross country squads will look to build on last season’s achievements and once again compete for Big West supremacy.

“We’re still really strong and we have a lot of up-and-coming [runners] so we’ll see,” Head Coach Pete Dolan said. “The first few races help us see what we can do, but the last weekend of this month is huge because that’s when points count across the country.”

To match last year’s performances, both Gaucho squads will need to fill a few voids. This year, seniors Tim Aukshunas and Micah Tyhurst will take the lead for a men’s team that snuck up on Cal Poly at last year’s Big West Championships, finishing just four points shy of the Mustangs before placing 27th at the NCAA National Championships.

After winning the conference title last season and finishing seventh in the country, the Gaucho women’s team was picked to once again finish atop the Big West in the preseason coaches poll. Behind the strong legs of seniors Megan Lewis and Bethany Nickless as well as junior Danielle Domenichelli, UCSB should look forward to another record-breaking season.

“For the men, Aukshunas is our team captain so I expect him and Tyhurst to carry the team,” Dolan said. “On the women’s side we have a pack of four. Lewis, Domenichelli, and Nickless are all solid and they have experience from Nationals last year so they know how to train. [Junior] Liza Hitchner helps with her ability to compete as well.”

Competing in the UCSB Lagoon Open earlier this month, the women ran away with the top six finishes in the 5K, including three Gauchos who came in at 18:09, and the men’s top spot went to Aukshunas, who nabbed third place in the 8K.

“I was looking for a little more from the guys, they know they’ll have to do better to qualify for Nationals and the women did a really good job,” Dolan said. “We may not have the budget or the locker rooms to be a contender every year, but after last year’s finish, we have a little to prove.”

UCSB also welcomes Avery Blackwell as the new assistant coach this season. His work training with the Nike Farm Team and coaching track teams at Santa Clara University combine to make him a valuable asset for the Gauchos.

“[Blackwell] has a feel for national competition and he has trained at the highest level,” Dolan said. “We want to make it really ordinary to train as hard as anyone in the country and he will help us with that. Last year will be hard to top, but we’ll try.”