RIVERSIDE, Calif. - The UC Santa Barbara women's cross country team captured the Big West Conference Championship title this morning on the Ag/Ops Course at UC Riverside, narrowly separating themselves from conference rival Cal Poly with just two points, 45 to 47. The last time the women's program won a conference title was over seven years ago where they, coincidentally enough, edged Cal Poly back then by a mere two points as well. The men's team would bring together the best performance of their season shortly after, taking 2nd overall with 55 points right behind Cal Poly's 29. Thanks to their efforts, this marks the 25th time for the men and the 20th time for the women to have finished in the top 3 at the conference championships since head coach Pete Dolan took over both programs 31 years ago.
UC Santa Barbara 45
Cal Poly 47
Cal St. Fullerton 77
UC Riverside 89
UC Davis 133
Long Beach State 150
Cal St. Northridge 202
UC Irvine 221
The women's race would start out conservatively through the first mile with a huge group coming through in around 5:30. Per usual, senior Jenna Hinkle would be leading the Gauchos at this point, tucked into the front pack as she has done all season. This time around however she would have company from her own teammates, who took a commanding charge to the front at the beginning of the race alongside groups from Cal Poly and Cal State Fullerton.
UC Riverside senior Faith Makau would end up making the first break just past the mile mark, with Hinkle slotting herself right onto her shoulder. By two miles, Makau and Hinkle would be well ahead of the rest, running practically side by side. A good 100 meters behind them, sophomore Katie Camarena would take charge of the second pack in 3rd place, while Celeste Wilson and Emily Lopez would be working together through the field not too far behind. Usual No. 3 scorer Miranda Ross would be shadowing Wilson and Lopez a few meters back, but an untimely foot problem would have her slowly fading to the back end of the field as the race went on. With Ross in trouble, sophomore Isa Marshall would step up to the occasion, passing Ross to take on the 5th scoring position.
Shortly before the three mile mark, Hinkle would make her winning bid and slowly pull away from Makau, leaving the Highlander to slowly fade off in her wake. Hinkle would cross the line comfortably in 1st place in a time of 20:17.1, once again maintaining her undefeated streak at the conference level for this season. A grimacing Camarena would be fighting Cal Poly's Miranda Daschian over the final 400, desperately trying to claw past the junior college transfer, but would ultimately settle for 3rd place in 20:28.8, chopping 30 seconds off her personal best in the process. Senior Emily Lopez would come charging in after Camarena to take 8th in 21:02.9, with Celeste Wilson following closely in 11th in 21:07.4. Lopez would knock off 26 seconds off her personal best and Wilson would jump a whopping 18 places from where she placed at the conference championships last year. With Cal Poly having their top five all in before UCSB's fifth, the outcome of the team race would fall onto Marshall's shoulders. In response, she would clutch out a 22nd place finish in a time of 21:44.9, a well deserved personal best that would lock in the final points and secure the team title for UCSB.
When asked about the victory, coach Dolan stated that this team's success could be traced not just to this past summer, but all the way back in early September over three years ago. "We were doing a workout at Horseshoe Lake in Mammoth Mountain," Coach Dolan recalled, "and for whatever reason, I witnessed them carrying themselves like champions [in that workout]. In just that moment I had a feeling they could do something special, and today it came to fruition." Coach Dolan would further comment on the drive of this particular women's team, stating, "If you saw their summer training logs, you could say they earned this win. They did their work. It was a full team effort. These ladies share a very special bond, and it showed out there."
Cal Poly 29
UC Santa Barbara 55
Cal St. Fullerton 112
UC Davis 141
UC Irvine 144
Cal St. Northridge 149
Long Beach State 149
UC Riverside 158
Much like the women, the men's race would start out tentatively, with a sea of green and white spearheading the lead pack. Senior Patrick Bourke would be just off the shoulder of this leading group, with fellow senior George Baier following closely behind him.
Things would remain fairly stagnant for the first two miles with hardly any commitments, but a battle for the individual title between Cal Poly's Swarnjit Boyal and UC Davis' Thomas Madden would crack things wide open, igniting the packs to disperse into distinct groups. By the third mile, Boyal and Madden were well clear of the field with a group of Mustangs following about 100 meters behind, Bourke and Baier shadowing every move the Mustangs made. By this point, redshirt freshman Yousef Baddour had caught up to the senior duo to make the Gauchos' presence even stronger in that front pack. Other redshirt freshman Isaiah Lozano would be witnessing all this from afar, fighting desperately in no man's land to stay in contention, with tight group of Gauchos surveying Lozano from even farther back consisting of true freshmen Brian Schulz, Jarett Chinn, and Nick Randazzo.
With the finish line in sight, Yousef Baddour, after serving as the No. 5 scorer nearly all season, would cap off a brilliantly calculated effort to cross the line in 5th place with a time of 24:43.1, serving as the No. 1 scorer for the Gauchos for the first time in his cross country career. Bourke would finish shortly after in 10th in 24:47.8, just nipping Baier in the final 100 meters, himself finishing 11th in 24:49.1. Isaiah Lozano would find new life in the last half mile, closing down on over four other runners to take 12th in 24:49.7. The final scoring position would be captured by Jarett Chinn, letting out distinct grunts and battle cries to will himself over the final 400 meters to take 17th in 25:07.3.
"We came off a very iffy performance two weeks ago, and to their credit, they shook that off and ran the best they have all season," remarked Coach Dolan. "This is Pat's first ever conference championships in cross country, but he looked like a well seasoned veteran out there. George and Pat really led the charge, and Yousef and Isaiah had brilliant performances. We even had three true freshman in the top 25. It was exciting to see them come together in the biggest race of the year for us."
With conference all wrapped up, both teams will head up to Seattle to take part in the NCAA Division 1 West Regional Meet in less than two weeks time on Friday November 10th.