Oct. 27, 2001
San Luis Obispo - In what was probably the most exciting cross country race in Big West history, the 11th-ranked Gauchos quelled a strong charge by #25 Utah State to win the Big West Championships. With both teams' front 5 runners combining for 10 of the top 11 spots, the two squads barely noticed the remaining seven conference teams. The Gauchos edged the Aggies by a score of 28-34, which marks the lowest score for a second place team in Big West history. The victory snaps Cal Poly's winning streak after claiming the last three titles. The Mustangs took third with a team score of 78.
After a slow first mile, Gaucho senior Josh Horton spread out the field by gradually accelerating the pace. Horton's move was covered only by Utah State's Steve Prescott, Cal Poly's David Jackson and UCSB's Eric Gans. Trailing the front pack were the remaining four Utah State front runners who were battling with UCSB junior Bryon Lamorandier.
At four miles Gans assumed the lead as Horton tucked in behind his teammate. As the pack charged through the last mile, Gans and Horton led the field, with the roar of dozens of Gaucho fans screaming encouragement. With 600 meters to go, Utah State's Prescott seized the lead and attempted to remove himself from the pack with a surge. The move dropped Cal Poly's Jackson, but Horton and Gans covered the surge and remained flanked on Prescott's left and right side. As the finish line came into view for the runners, Gans and Horton unleashed their kicking speed which put a quick end to the suspense as the pair raced ahead of Prescott, with Gans finishing first and Horton second.
Meanwhile, as the trail pack made their way through the last few miles, Bryon Lamorandier continued to contend with Utah State's 2nd 3rd and 4th runner. Lamorandier, once regarded as a strictly 800/1500 meter runner, met the challenge and outsprinted all of Utah State's pack to take 5th overall. Junior J.T. Service and senior Aaron Sharp sealed the team title as Service finished 9th, while Sharp secured 11th.
"We had three battles in the last half mile," said head coach Pete Dolan. "Eric and Josh won the first battle, then Lamorandier beat Utah's 3-4-5 runners, and Sharp beat out a pack of four runners. We won all three battles. Everybody was tough coming down to the finish."
The win marks the Gauchos' 3rd conference championship in the last seven years. Head coach Pete Dolan earned "Coach of the Year" honors for the sixth time. Fifth year senior Eric Gans was voted "Conference Runner of the Year", after narrowly missing the accolade last year by taking 2nd by a margin of less than two seconds. Josh Horton earned All-Conference honors for the fifth time, while Service and Lamorandier earned their first All-Conference accolade.
The Gauchos will now prepare for the NCAA West Regional Championships, the race that has been their last race in all previous seasons. This year the Gauchos are hoping to advance to the National Championships for the first time by claiming an automatic or "at-large" bid. The Gauchos' West Region is regarded as one of the toughest regions in the country with #2 ranked Stanford, #7 Portland, #13 Arizona, #19 Arizona State and #20 Oregon.
The race will be hosted by the University of Arizona in Tucson. The Gauchos will face the entire Pac-10 Conference, as well as the WCC and WAC conferences, and the Big West Conference with the exception of Idaho and Utah State, who will compete in the Mountain Regional.