Nationals are finally a reality for UC Santa Barbara women’s cross country.

Led by seniors Megan Lewis and Bethany Nickless, the women’s team gained an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships after finishing fifth in the West Regional on Saturday morning. On the men’s side, three seniors ran their final race, and the squad placed ninth with 224 points. While the men’s season comes to an end, the UCSB women continue on after again proving why they deserve to be considered amongst the nation’s elite in this meet.

“Washington is seventh in the country and we were only 25 points from them,” Head Coach Pete Dolan said. “Other teams don’t have the experience that we do, and even though there was a lot of pressure on us, we turned it into an opportunity. It was the best we’ve run all year, and that’s a good sign now going into Nationals.”

Lewis finished in the 12th spot (20:47) while Nickless followed to take 13th place (20:49) on the 6k course.

“Bethany and Megan are so consistent,” Dolan said. “And with teams like Stanford and Oregon, there are some great individuals out there battling.”

Although Stanford achieved its ninth consecutive Regional title, the Gauchos still made themselves known. Junior Liza Hitchner was 24th with a time of 21:07 while her counterpart Danielle Domenichelli[ crossed the line in 41st place (21:29). Rounding out the top five was Big West Freshman of the Year Breanne Strenkowski, who took 53rd place (21:40).

“Bree was the biggest surprise,” Dolan said. “She looked smooth out there. And Liza scorched the last mile, so that was exciting. It was the best race I’ve ever seen her run. Both Bree and Liza had lifetime races. Danielle was a little off, but with the team not having as much depth this season, they really supported each other.”

In his final race as a Gaucho, senior Mike Powers, UCSB’s top finisher for the men, took 29th place (30:53). Behind him were junior Scott Smith in 39th (31:09) and senior Micah Tyhurst in 42nd (31:14). The final two were senior captain Tim Aukshunas and sophomore Julian DeRubira who placed 52nd and 63rd respectively.

“For the men, we had our challenges this year and we weren’t really in the national hunt,” Dolan said. “But for who we are, we made it a team effort and didn’t give up.”

When both teams qualified for Nationals for the first time in school history last year, the men finished seventh and the women came in second. Considering the teams lost 12 runners combined after that achievement, this season’s Regionals results are incredibly impressive.