Garrett Leight

Let the races begin.

This weekend the Cal Poly men’s cross-country team will take to the course in Terry Haute, Ind. at the Pre-National Invitational, the most important race of the season thus far.

The Mustangs are ranked No. 10 in the nation according to the Mondo cross-country rankings and the team is looking to improve on last year’s 10th place finish.

There will be 73 teams competing in Saturday’s big race, which will be run on the LaVerne Gibson Championship Cross Country Course. Conditions will be rough, something the Mustangs have been training for in the past two weeks. However, being on the West Coast, the course is tough to simulate.

“The courses in the Midwest are true cross country courses,” coach Mark Conover said. “The conditions can play a factor, you never know what kind of precipitation you’re going to get.”

“Coach (Conover) had us really tailor our workouts to what we are up against this weekend,” junior Shane Dougherty said. “We’ve been running on thick grass and really emphasizing being fit for this race.”

Conover says that being physically fit is the key to success. “When you’re fit, it doesn’t matter what race your running in, no matter what part of the country, no matter what conditions, no matter what type of course, you’re going to run well.”

Conover said his team is physically prepared.

He added that getting his team physically prepared will be important because it allows the team to get mentally prepared with confidence.

“This years’ team is focused and ready to take it to the next level,” Dougherty said. “It’s important that no one is selfish, we have a great team with a lot of depth. We have an opportunity to do really well this year.”

Dougherty hopes this year’s team can grab a top four finish at the Pre-National Invitational.

“It’s one of our goals and if we are able to manage our energy and run well, it’s possible,” Doughherty said.

The Pre-National Invitational is a 10k race that gives every participating team a chance to qualify for the main event on November 21 on the same course at Indiana State. Any team that does not qualify will have one more shot at nationals via their regional qualifying meet.

Last year’s Mustangs finished 10th in nationals and this year’s team is led by senior captain Brandon Collins, redshirt freshman Troy Swier and junior transfer Brian Baker.

Dougherty spoke of a speech given by Collins before the team left for Saturday’s race that motivated everyone to be selfless and put individual accolades aside.

“This is definitely the most unified team I have ever been on and that unity should really help us in our race,” Swier said.

The Mustangs finished in first place at their last race at UC Riverside and in fourth place in the Roy Griak Invitational on September 24. Some of the top teams in the nation also competed at the Griak invite, including Wisconsin and Brigham Young University.

“The guys have really progressed since our last race and we’ve been moving in a positive direction every day,” Conover said.

The team will have to bring its best efforts Saturday as it will be competing against the top teams in the nation all vying for the podium.

“We can run with the best teams in the country, and now that we’re fit, anything is possible,” Conover said.

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