Aug. 31, 2006
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The UC Santa Barbara women's cross country team is returning its four top athletes from 2004 after the group collectively redshirted the 2005 season. With the returning foursome leading the charge, a UCSB program that finished 17th at the NCAA Championships two years ago will not only be looking for a return visit to the big dance, but also to improve upon that 17th-place finish.
The Gauchos have been selected as the team to beat in the Big West, but in order to improve on their 17th place finish at the 2004 NCAA Championships, a few factors will be involved.
Entering her final season for the Gauchos, senior Stephanie Rothstein, who is coming off of a spectacular 2006 track campaign that saw her claim Big West Athlete of the Year honors, NCAA All-American honors and a 10,000 meter title at the 2006 Under-23 NCAC Championships in the Dominican Republic as a U.S. representative, will need to continue her dominance. Rothstein will look to help lead the Gauchos throughout the season.
In addition to Rothstein, seniors Lauren and Lindsey Christman have fought back from the first injuries suffered in their running careers. Both Christmans sat-out the 2005 cross country season after great 2005 track seasons. The duo finished 1-2 at the 2004 Big West Cross Country Championships and while only time will tell if they can return to that form, as a trio, the 2005 redshirts give the Gauchos a potentially potent top-three. The group has combined for two Big West individual titles, five All-Regional accolades and five All-Big West honors.
The fourth member of the Gauchos to redshirt the 2005 season was junior Megan Lewis. Proving herself on the track, she became one of the West Region's best at 5,000 meters, qualifying for the NCAA Championships at that distance in 2006. Lewis will look to add to her resume by cracking the top-10 at the Big West Cross Country Championships and improve upon her 43rd place best at the 2004 NCAA West Regional Championships. Lewis is already a two-time regional qualifier in the 5,000 meters and she was the 2005 Big West champion in the 10,000 meters.
Senior Bethany Nickless proved herself last year, leading UCSB at the NCAA Pre-National Meet with a strong 70th-place performance and grabbing All-Big West honors at the 2005 Big West Cross Country Championships. Maintaining those efforts throughout the season will go a long way in helping the team achieve its aspirations. Aiding Nickless will be her experience of winning the Big West steeplechase title in 2006. She also finished as the runner-up to her teammate Rothstein in the 5,000. Nickless also achieved a runner-up finish at the NCAA West Regional Championships in the steeplechase qualifying for her first appearance at an NCAA National Championships.
UCSB's impressive depth also includes senior Hadas Moser who will try build upon her 2005 experienc. Hampered by a stress fracture at the end of the 2005 campaign, Moser got healthy and returned for the 2006 track season and she set personal bests at 1,500 meters and, impressively, at 5,000 meters, narrowly missing qualification for the NCAA West Regional Championships by less than a second. She will be needed throughout the season to help the Gauchos reach their primary goals at the NCAA Championships.
Sophomores Danielle Domenichelli and Liza Hitchner showed toughness, emerging as the Gauchos third and fourth runners near the end of the 2005 season. Running side-by-side in many of the races, their team work culminated in a 15th and 16th place finish respectively at the Big West Championships asserting them as two of the top freshman in the Conference.
Also, look for senior Christie Farson and newcomers Alyssa Brown (Mission Viejo, Calif./Mission Viejo HS) and Katie Voigtlander (Burlingame, Calif./Burlingame HS) to rise to new levels in their careers and help the Gauchos in what should be an outstanding season.