One year ago, the UCSB women’s cross country team pulled off an improbable feat by winning Minnesota’s Griak Invitational despite the fact that the team was unranked at the time. This year’s squad was faced with the task of repeating last year’s success, as the Gauchos once again looked to climb into the national rankings.

As a team, the Gauchos took fourth place with 156 points behind the University of Minnesota, Arizona State and Michigan State. The women again proved they deserve to be considered among the best in the country by finishing above several highly regarded teams, including #10 Virginia.

“The situation was that we knew we had a good team, but I was worried there would be an emotional let down after we did so well last year,” said Head Coach Pete Dolan. “Everyone ran as well as they could and we came back to beat Virginia, Iowa State and other great schools. We should really be ranked after this race.”

Senior Bethany Nickless stole the show with a seventh place finish (21:35) and senior Megan Lewis was close behind, finishing in 12th place (21:46). The two Gaucho leaders relied on their familiarity with the course and confidence in their ability.

“You really can’t buy experience,” Dolan said. “Lewis ran this race three times, but our biggest break was Nickless. This summer she was telling me that she always thought of herself as a steeplechaser who ran cross country, but now she is just focused on training for cross and that’s very exciting to hear.”

Following up the Aztec Invitational where UCSB practiced running in groups, Dolan felt positively about the cohesion he saw amongst the women. Juniors Liza Hitchner and Danielle Domenichelli finished 27th and 40th respectively.

“I’m glad we did it,” Dolan said. “Even though Megan had a setback with a sore hamstring, we utilized the pairings. However, our attitude was if you’re feeling good, you have to leave your partner behind.”

While the women’s team was in Minnesota, the men stayed in California and competed in the Stanford Invitational. UC Santa Barbara finished third as a team behind Stanford and Cal. In a surprising turn of events, senior Mike Powers nabbed 14th place (24:36); just two-tenths of a second in front of senior captain Tim Aukshunas (24:28). Sophomore Julian DeRubira secured a 28th place finish and senior Micah Tyhurst was just a step behind him, finishing 29th overall.

“It’s strange because we are counting on [junior] Scott [Smith], Tim, and Micah, but Powers was our number one and Julian, who has a load of talent, was our three,” Dolan said. “I’m really happy because we have a legitimate team and we beat several schools in that race.”