Let’s transport ourselves back to 2002: Frodo had just begun his journey to Mordor, Eminem won Video of the Year at the MTV Music Video Awards for his hit single, “Without Me,” and the Anaheim Angels won the World Series in seven games over the San Francisco Giants.
That also happened to be the last year Cal Poly men’s cross country lost a Big West Conference Championship.
Most of you probably missed the article in Monday’s Mustang Daily, unless you glanced up after checking your Sudoku answers. It was buried on the inside of the back page in a small snippet, but the accomplishment is no less significant.
The team became the first Cal Poly sports program to win four consecutive Big West titles since the move to Division I.
The race was Saturday as the Mustangs hosted the meet at Fairbanks Cross Country Course across from Cuesta College. It was a hot day for a cross country race, with temperatures reaching into the 80s as UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly lined up for one of the closest conference championships in Big West history.
The Gauchos entered as the favorites, ranked No. 13 in the nation at the time, but No. 24 Cal Poly had beaten its Central Coast rivals earlier in the season.
As they crossed by the finish area for the first loop, the pack was too close to distinguish a leader. But the race thinned out the next time through – a group of Gauchos and Mustangs were prevalent in the front. It seemed as if the Mustangs had a lead if the race were to end at that point.
Phillip Reid, a junior standout for Cal Poly, broke away from the pack along with UC Santa Barbara’s Mike Chavez the third time through the finish area. Then came another Gaucho and several more coupled with a few Cal Poly runners – this time it looked like the Gauchos were ahead, but it was still too close to call.
Then came the late-race heroics of several Mustang runners.
“It appears as if Phillip Reid of Cal Poly has opened up a big lead,” the race’s public address announcer said.
A cheer went up from the hometown crowd. Sure enough, Reid came running down the final straight with about a 30-meter lead. With about 50 meters to go, he pointed his fingers to the sky and loped across the finish line. One runner in.
Chavez came in next and so did a teammate of his. Then another cheer from the crowd as Mustangs’ Evan Anderson and Troy Swier sped past. Three in for Cal Poly, two for UC Santa Barbara.
Now the cheers got louder as Jameson Mora of Cal Poly and Micah Tyhurst of UC Santa Barbara were battling down the final straight. Tyhurst had a lead, but Mora had momentum and won the race to the finish. Four for Cal Poly, three for UC Santa Barbara.
Next came a wave of UC Santa Barbara runners as three came in before the next Cal Poly runner, Joe Gatel, to complete the scoring.
There was about a 20-minute delay after the race before the results were announced, but Cal Poly head coach Mark Conover couldn’t wait that long.
“Did we get it, did we get it?” he asked as the race official tallied the final scores.
The race official replied, “29 to 33. Cal Poly.”