This Saturday, the men’s and women’s cross country teams will travel to Eugene, Ore., to compete in the NCAA West Regionals. The women’s squad enters the meet ranked #27 in the nation while the men continue to persevere through many injuries. The teams will attempt to repeat their success from one year ago when both reached the NCAA Championships for the first time in school history.

“I know I keep saying it, but you just can’t buy experience,” Head Coach Pete Dolan said. “After reaching Nationals, then you’re hungry and you don’t want to give that up.”

Seniors Megan Lewis and Bethany Nickless will be primed for action following their respective first- and second-place finishes at the Big West Conference Championships. UCSB took first in the race despite struggles beyond their top three runners.

“We didn’t have our best race at conference,” Nickless said. “Liza [Hitchner] was battling sickness all week and Alyssa [Brown] wasn’t on that day. It’s good to see that we have that support and can get the job done, but at the same time, if we run at Regionals like we’ve been running all season, Nationals becomes a reality.”

Last week, Nickless became the 2007 co-Big West Women’s Cross Country Athlete of the Year while Breanne Strenkowski snatched Freshman of the Year honors. Dolan completed the Gaucho sweep of awards by being named Women’s Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season and the seventh time in his career.

“No one was going to beat us last year,” Dolan said. “But this is a new season and I think we’ve accepted the challenge.”

For the women’s team, the greatest opposition at Regionals lies outside of the Big West. Stanford, at #1, has captured the last eight regional titles, led most recently by senior Arianna Lambie, who has taken first in the previous two West Regional meets, and #2 Oregon boasts some young talent in freshman Alexandra Kosinski who finished third in the Pac-10 Championships this year.

On the men’s side, despite a historic run by #28 Cal Poly at the Conference Championships, the Gauchos turned in a solid second-place performance with junior Scott Smith taking seventh place, senior Micah Tyhurst finishing in the eighth spot, and sophomore Julian DeRubira finishing ninth. Persevering through injuries to Tyhurst and senior captain Tim Aukshunas, the men’s team may look to sneak into Nationals like they did last season after a seventh-place result at Regionals.