After a disappointing ninth-place finish at the West Regional on Saturday, the Cal Poly men’s cross country team will look to rebound at the NCAA Nationals on Monday as the Mustangs travel to Terre Haute, Ind.
Cal Poly expected to qualify for the meet, but didn’t expect to do so as the ninth qualifier from the West. The Mustangs had their worst race of the season at the wrong time, but a strong strength of schedule saved the team from a tragic end to the season.
Two of Cal Poly’s top runners were sick for Saturday’s race. Evan Anderson and Troy Swier, consistently the team’s Nos. 2 and 3 runners, called coach Mark Conover at the beginning of last week with the bad news.
“It’s been a year where a lot of emotional things have happened, starting with when Matt (Johnsrud) called me about his bike wreck,” Conover said. “So when those guys called me on Monday it was like, ‘Oh, another glitch.’”
One glitch that did go in favor of the Mustangs was the University of Texas-El Paso failing to earn an automatic berth to the NCAA Nationals. The Miners entered the weekend ranked No. 4, but finished behind Colorado and BYU.
In cross country, teams are given invitations to the NCAA Nationals based on a strength-of-schedule type formula that accounts for every ranked team a school beats during the season. In the end, the Miners didn’t run a tough enough schedule to earn an at-large bid.
The Mustangs, who dropped out of the top 30 in the latest Mondo poll, have beaten eight teams ranked ahead of them going into Monday’s race. They finished ahead of No. 22 Washington, No. 19 Butler, No. 16 Texas and No. 27 American at the Bill Dellinger Invitational hosted by Oregon.
Two weeks later, the Mustangs prevailed over No. 8 BYU, No. 29 Virginia, No. 21 William & Mary and Washington again. Cal Poly has also defeated No. 28 UC Santa Barbara on two occasions.
“If you look at it and say we’ve beaten eight teams going into the meet, that might put us at 23rd,” Conover said. “Then you look at some of the other teams that got in on their own and I’d say 20th place would be a good goal for us.”
Traveling for the Mustangs will be Swier, Anderson, Phillip Reid, Joe Gatel, Luke Llamas, Brian Baker and Jameson Mora.
Baker is nursing a back injury and may not be available. However, alternates Jeff Lease and Leif Anderson will also travel with the squad in case Baker or another is unable to compete.
“We think we can get top 20 if we all run well,” Mora said. “We’ve beat eight of the teams that are ahead of us and some teams will run poorly while some teams will run well. I think me, Troy and Evan can all run a lot better than we did at regionals.”