Sept. 22, 2005
The Gaucho Women enter the heart of their season ranked No. 15 in the FinishLynx Pre-Season National Poll. The highest pre-season ranking for a Gaucho Cross Country squad, the Gauchos return two Big West Champions, four All-Conference honorees, three All-Region and five from the NCAA National Championship squad that finished 17th a year ago out of the 323 NCAA Division I teams.
After two pre-season meets without some of their top runners in uniform, one at home in which they dominated Cal Poly and the other in Huntington Beach, CA where they finished 5th with a "B" team, the #15 ranked Gauchos travel up to the Stanford Invitational without four of their best women again.
With 2004 Big West Champion Lauren Christman (Sr.), 2003 Big West Champion Stephanie Rothstein (Sr.), Lindsay Christman (Sr.) and Megan Lewis (Jr.) all yet to race in uniform it is a possibility that the Gauchos go the whole season without them. With some lingering injuries, if the decision is made to red shirt the four women, the Gauchos are bound to fall out of the rankings and potentially as the favorites for the Big West Championships only to potentially look like a national powerhouse in 2006.
What does it all mean if they redshirt for 2005? At the Conference level without Idaho, which finished 25th in the NCAA in 2004, and Utah St. out of the Big West, the top sixteen women from the 2004 Big West Championships are not returning. Thus, the 17th place finisher becomes the top returner, or UCSB's Hadas Moser (Jr.). Also, Seanna Martin (Sr.) is the 5th top returner from 2004 and Leslie Alexnader (Sr.) rounds out the top ten as the 10th.
Long Beach St. and UC Irvine have made some key additions to their squads that will indeed make this year's Big West Championships a close and exciting one to watch. The title will rest in the hands in the teams' fourth and fifth scorers. For the Gauchos this could come from any number of sources that may at seasons end be one of the top three.
Bethany Nickless, a standout from Fountain Valley H.S. and a redshirt Sophomore this year will potentially be one these women the Gauchos will look to for filling out there top five scorers. Breaking out during the 2005 Track campaign she became the 3,000m Steeplechase School Record holder with a 10:43.71 and qualified for the NCAA West Regional Championships in doing so. Nickless finished strong at the Cross Country Home Opener ahead of Cal Poly's runners and alongside teammate Alexander.
Other women looking to fill out those spots will be veterans Christie Farson (Jr.) and Ashley Drady (Jr.) along with a slew of freshman who have shown some early season toughness in two races. Danielle Domenichelli (Fr.) out of Oak Ridge H.S. in Northern California held the 13th fastest mile time in California with a 4:55.73. Also, racing strong thus far has been Liza Hitchner (Fr.) out of Half Moon Bay, CA. Hitchner qualified for the state meet with 5:02.71 1600m personal best at the Central Coast Section finals.
Kristina Moore (Fr.) from Riverside, CA was the team's fifth scorer at the home opener on Sept. 3rd already proving she can run at the NCAA Div. I level. She held a personal best of 5:10.49 in High School for 1600m. The Gauchos also added Erin Schuyler of Granite Bay H.S. holding a personal best 1600m of 4:56.76, the 17th fastest mark in California. She battled some early season injuries but may fight back to jump in uniform by seasons end.
Regionally, Stanford and ASU return strong squad in 2005 as last year's No. 1 and No.2 teams in the West. UCSB was third a year ago, however this year may find strong competition from Idaho, Washington, UCLA, Utah St., Arizona, Oregon and of course Irvine and Long Beach St. In order to be considered a national class team the Gauchos will have to prove themselves in three weeks at the Pre-National Meet in Indiana to pick up some points toward the NCAA Championships, possibly without their top four.
NCAA Championship qualification explained: The top two teams from each of the eight regions advance to the National Championships automatically with everyone else put in at-large pool based on points accumulated throughout the year. The Pre-National meet is the major meet to do so. At-large points are accumulated by beating a team from another region during the 2005 season that finishes in the top two auto qualifying spots at their Regional meet in November. Last year the Gauchos picked up points at the Roy Griak Invitational and the Pre-National meet solidifying their spot at the NCAA Championships with a third place finish at the Regional meet.
First however, the Gauchos must tackle the Stanford Invitational, also the site of the 2005 West Regional Championships on November 12th. The Stanford Invite marks the unofficial start of the season for the Gauchos as they go up against Cal Poly SLO, Long Beach, Irvine, & Stanford among others on a 6,000m course around the Stanford Campus Golf Course. Races begin early in the morning with the High School sections followed by collegiate action starting at 4:10. The women's scored race goes off at 5:15pm.