Both the men’s and women’s cross country teams continued their dominant seasons with each finishing first place in the Big West Cross Country Championships at the UC Riverside Ag/Ops course on Saturday morning.
True freshman Laura Hollander paced the field once again on the women’s side, covering the 6-kilometer course in a record-breaking 19 minutes, 12 seconds and helping the Mustangs capture their first conference title since 2001. Mark Conover, director of track and field/cross country, delivered the results to the women’s team after he was informed they had won their third team title in Cal Poly history and their first since 2001.
“It was a great thing when they handed me the official women’s results,” Conover said. “I saw that we had won by three points (pitted against UC Davis), and I went over and told the women as they were chatting about their races that we won. There definitely was a lot of joy.”
With the individual win, Hollander remains undefeated in her collegiate career, winning all four races she has competed in this year. Her young career was highlighted by an Oct. 12 victory at the prestigious Wisconsin Invitational in Madison that featured 48 of the nation’s top teams.
Hollander’s time at the Big West Championship meet shattered the previous course record held by Amanda Moreno of UC Santa Barbara (19:57). She also became the second female runner to break the 20-minute barrier since the championship course was moved to the 6K distance in 2003.
Hollander did it in patented form, running ahead of the pack from start to finish, Conover said. UC Davis’ Sarah Sumpter couldn’t catch Hollander from behind and finished second overall in a time of 19:44.
The women’s team has struggled in years past to field a team able to compete for the conference’s top spot, but with the arrival of Hollander this year and several top-10 finishers on Saturday, that trend was reversed.
Cal Poly edged defending champion UC Davis by three points with top-16 finishes by each of its five scoring runners. The Mustangs finished with 43 points, while the Aggies finished with 46, followed by UC Santa Barbara with 75 on the day.
Sophomore Savannah Pio crossed the line seventh overall and second for the Mustangs in 20:27, while senior Vanessa Hancock finished eighth overall in 20:33.
Sophomore Meghan Breadmore (20:40) and senior Alex Ciaraglia (21:02) rounded out the scoring for the Mustangs with finishes of 11th and 16th overall, respectively.
Looking ahead, the focus for the women’s cross country squad will be to compete in the NCAA West Regionals on Nov. 9 in order to qualify.
“The women have a different kind of team strategy (than the men’s team),” Conover said. “Obviously with Laura out in front, that’s a big low stick, and we need our other four girls to really do their best pack running as a group to finish as high up as they possibly can at the regional meet.”
The men’s team continued its winning ways by running to conference supremacy for the 10th time in the past 11 seasons. Cal Poly has won all but three Big West titles since 1998 for a total of 12 overall championships. And in the conference championships, the men dominated the course with all five of Cal Poly’s scoring runners finishing 10th or better.
Junior Chris Frias led the way, by winning the 8K meet in 24:10, but was closely followed by teammates, junior Blake Ahrold and sophomore Mitchell Moriarty, for a 1-2-3 Mustangs finish. Cal Poly placed all five scoring runners in the top 10 to easily win the meet with 25 points on the day. UC Santa Barbara secured second place with 48 points.
“As a team, it’s a great accomplishment,” Frias said. “It’s just carrying on the tradition, and that’s what we really wanted to do. We just had a good day, both on the men’s side and on the women’s side. It’s just a great honor to be No. 1 in the race, but it really was a team effort. There were five of us close together for pretty much the whole race, and we worked together and surged at the end.”
Junior Sean Davidson finished ninth with a time of 24:31 followed by senior David Cardona in 10th crossing the line 24:35.
Both the men’s and the women’s cross country teams will compete in the NCAA West Regional on Nov. 9 in Seattle, Wash. to attempt to qualify for the NCAA Championships.
“Both teams are in a great spot,” Conover said. “We always like to be firing on all cylinders at the end of the season. This Saturday showed that we’re right there. The west region’s the deepest region in the country for distance running, so a lot of teams are in position to get to the NCAA Championships. So we just need to mix it up with them and finish in and amongst those teams in the right spots. All we can do is get ready for it, and we can only take care of how we do. We can’t take care of how everyone else is going to do.”
And Frias and the rest of the men’s team know what must be done to qualify.
“We have the talent, and we have the depth,” Frias said. “We just need to put it all together like we did at conference. Anything can happen. Last year, we made it by doing the same thing like pack running and running smart, and we’re going to try and do the same thing this year.”
Stephan Teodosescu and Jefferson P. Nolan contributed to this article.