The Mustangs look poised to make another strong run at the Big West Title. MUSTANG NEWS FILE PHOTO

Men’s Cross Country­­­ ­­­­­­­­— a deep lineup

Both Swarnjit Boyal and Clayto­n Hutchins, two seniors on the men’s team, both have the same goal for their team this year: go to nationals.

Last year in regionals, the Mustangs were four points away from making nationals. According to Boyal, that’s the difference between a few runners finishing a few seconds faster.

“It’s not every year that we have the chance to go to nationals. It takes years of development and dedication,” Boyal said. “Sometimes you don’t get it right as a freshman, a sophomore. For us, we have a lot of upperclassmen and we all have the same goals.”

Boyal, who was named the Big West Cross Country Athlete of the week after winning the UC Santa Barbara Lagoon open Sept. 2, is thrilled about his team’s depth. “We’re returning our top seven that we took to regionals. We’re pretty much returning a full squad, plus we had a great recruiting class.”

Boyal is proud to see where his team is now compared to when he started. He said, “I remember coming in here as a youngster trying to be the best one day. The older I’ve gotten the more I realized that it is so much better to run with your teammates and to push each other to make the lowest score possible. That’s what makes cross country special.”

During the team’s early meetings, Boyal said his team is looking to get everyone healthy because some members are still recovering from injuries. His personal goal is to be in the top five or 10 in regionals and to finish in the top 40 in nationals, which is all-American status.

Hutchins, who came in second place last season in the 5,000 meters at the Big West Track and Field Championships, is returning from an injury and is “looking to surprise himself” this season. He finished 67th in his season debut in last Friday’s Bill Dellinger Invitational with a time of 24:43:8.

Hutchins said he is also excited about his team’s experience and noted that Jake Ritter, a freshman from Citrus Heights, California, is “looking very strong.”

From runners one to seven, Hutchins wants his team to “keep their time as close as possible.”

Women’s Cross Country- rebuilding yet confident

The women’s cross country team is rebuilding, but that won’t stop head coach Priscilla Bayley from saying her team won’t reach their goals. Most noticeably, Peyton Bilo, who earned All-American honors by finishing in 23rd place in the NCAA Cross Country Championships last season and qualified for the NCAA championships in track and field after running the last 12 laps of the race with one shoe, is redshirting this season.

Bayley said the decision was made early on in the summer.

“Sometimes when you have a lot of success, it extends your season. With the team being very young, we felt like it would be good to redshirt Peyton now. We only have four seasons of Peyton. We want to make sure the team is in a position where we can best utilize her when we need her.”

Losing Bilo and other runners to graduation created a lot of openings on the team.

“Last year was an unprecedented year for the women’s program,” Bayley said. We won the conference championships by one of the largest margins of victory. We were pretty dominant.”

The team’s top spot now belongs to Miranda Daschian, a redshirt sophomore transfer from Cuesta College. “Being a local, I already had an idea to what the team was like,” Daschian said. “I never wanted to leave San Luis [Obispo] because I grew up here. With my success at Cuesta I am thankful for this opportunity.”

Daschian is looking to improve her times and stay healthy because this is her first time competing at the division one level.

Juniors Julia Vasquez and Hannah Hull were on last year’s conference team and are returning this season. Vasquez is the team’s number two runner behind Daschian, and according to Coach Bayley, was discovered by the team when they were out for a run and spotted Vasquez running very fast on the trail as well. Even though Vasquez never ran in high school, she was asked to join the team. “We are very lucky to find a hidden gem on our own campus,” Bayley said.

Hull, according to Bayley, has “started to embrace longer distances” and is “improving her training.” She also managed to stay healthy so far this season.

Redshirt junior Maddie McDonald was a walk-on and redshirted her freshman year and also contributed to the track and field team. Sophomore Bryanna Fuller redshirted last season and is traveling with the team for the first time.

“The lifeblood of our program is taking successful California runners and making them better,” Bayley said. “Not all of those runners were big-scholarship athletes. Some were recruited because of their potential. They came in, stuck their nose down, and grinded it out, and now they are reaping the benefits of all that hard work.”

The Mustangs will have seven new runners as they try to win another Big West title.

Looking ahead

The Mustangs do not have a light schedule on their way to regionals.  In Friday’s Bill Dellinger Cross Country Invitational in Oregon, the Mustangs faced eight teamed ranked in the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association National Top 25. Boyal and Daschian both led their teams; Boyal finished 21st and Daschian 24th. Cal Poly’s next meet will be at the Under Armour Wisconsin Invitational Oct. 13, which according to Boyal, is the biggest Cross Country Invitational besides nationals. The Big West Conference Championship is Oct. 28 in
Riverside, California.

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