Lauren Rabaino

On Saturday morning, the No. 27 Cal Poly men’s cross country team will attempt to do something that hasn’t been done since the program moved to the Division I level: Take home a fifth consecutive Big West Conference championship.

“We’re ready,” said junior Troy Swier, who has posted the second best time in the Big West Conference this season.

Swier believes his team is prepared for the race, which will take place at the Fairbanks Memorial Cross Country Course.

“We have a better team than we have had in a while,” Swier said.

Despite the team’s top times in the conference, Swier said that the race will still have to be run.

Cal Poly cross country coach Mark Conover echoed Swier’s remarks.

“We don’t want to look past this weekend,” Conover said. “No team is going to lie down and die for us. There are teams that would love to stop our streak so we’ve got to be on our toes and we’re gonna have to come out ready to roll and that’s why we run the races.”

The Mustangs, who have won the past four conference championships and have posted seven conference titles in the past nine years, will have nine runners in uniform for the 8-kilometer race, including All-American Phillip Reid who placed 21st at the NCAA nationals in Terra Haute, Ind. last season.

Reid is ranked No. 1 on the conference’s top-10 performance list for this season with a 23:47 in the 8-kilometer that he posted at the pre-national meet hosted Oct. 13 by Indiana State in Terra Haute, Ind.

Other top runners for Cal Poly include Swier, Evan Anderson, Matt Johnsrud, Joe Gatel and Leif Anderson, who have all landed on the conference’s Top-10 performance list.

Six of the nine runners are on the Big West Conference Top-10 performance list for this season and seven were on last year’s Big West Championship squad.

Despite the strong list of runners, the conference title is far from secure. UC Riverside and UC Santa Barbara also have runners in the conference Top-10.

Mike Powers of UC Santa Barbara is No. 5 on the list with a time of 24:16. Ulices Pina is No. 6 and Raul Lara is No. 9. They have posted times of 24:23 and 24:28, respectively.

The women’s team will be led by sophomore Kimberly Donatelli, who finished 19th last year and received the Big West Conference freshman of the year award.

Donatelli will represent Cal Poly along with Alyssa Daw, Katie Wolfe, Kristen Sanzari, Leanne Fogg, Rebecca Paddack and Jenny Bergren.

No upperclassmen will be representing Cal Poly on the women’s team. Of the eight members competing, five are freshmen and three are sophomores.

The women’s team took fifth in the conference last season and will be looking to finish in a high position this year.

Perhaps the biggest advantage for the Mustangs will be the familiarity of the course.

“It embraces what cross country is all about,” Conover said of the Fairbanks Memorial Cross Country Course. “It has hills and it has twists and turns, and it’s definitely a course where the fittest athlete will be the one who does the best and the person who races it the smartest.”

Another factor, less so for Cal Poly and more so for the conference teams from Southern California, has been the wildfires’ effects on practice.

“We’re fortunate, I guess, in that it certainly has not impeded on our ability to keep our training going,” Conover said of the fires. “I feel bad for all the people down south and the student athletes from a lot of our conference’s schools that probably weren’t even able to get outside to run.”

John Elder, head coach of Cal State Fullerton’s cross country team, said the school’s administrators had encouraged his team to practice light while the air quality was poor.

“It hasn’t been devastating for us in terms of training,” Elder said. “We didn’t run on Monday and we had a light practice on Tuesday and Wednesday.”

Elder said his team primarily practices in the mornings when the temperature is cooler and the air quality is a little better.

Swier said he couldn’t speak for the rest of the team, but he had “personally noticed a difference” in his performance during the team’s practice this week. He said the team was practicing a set of eight 800s and that he became winded and his throat burned.

“I had to drop after six of them,” Swier said.

Conover said he expects the weather to be cooler and more conducive to running by Saturday.

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