By Samantha Thompson

The UC Santa Cruz women’s cross country team traveled to southern Oregon unsure of what to expect from its young team last weekend. By the time they left, coach Adam Boothe knew he had something special.

“We went there with no real specific race goal,” Boothe said. “We just wanted to go out and compete well and we ended up having the best day in the history of the program.”

In cross-country races, only the team’s top seven racers have their times count. Saturday, six of the Slugs’ qualifiers finished the 5-kilometer Willamette Invitational in under 20 minutes, making the average time for the top seven 19:25 – a school record.

“With this particular course, we just knew that we needed to be running fast,” junior and co-captain Devon Orme said. “Pretty much it was just get in there and go run your shoes off.”

In addition to the team’s success, Mikayla Murphy, a second-year student and first-year runner, set the school record for the 5K with a time of 18:36, two seconds better than the previous mark, which was set at the same course last year. Murphy finished 29th of about 300 runners.

“More than anything it helped to be surrounded by my teammates,” Murphy said. “They are what really fuel me through.”

Murphy’s 29th position paralleled teammate Tamara Torlakson’s placement in the same race last year. Torlakson, who became UCSC’s first cross-country runner to advance to nationals last year, had set the previous 5K record at Willamette last year, and also finished 29th.

“Tamara is such an inspirational runner,” Murphy said. “I definitely want to follow in her footsteps because she did so amazing last year and she did something no one ever thought someone at UCSC could do because we’re so underrated in athletics.”	

In Boothe’s five years at the helm of the cross-country program, he has seen the program grow in both success and size, as the team currently holds almost double the number of runners it did when he took over.

“I first came in with the goal of making this a nationally-ranked distance running program at UCSC,” Boothe said. “My attitude was that it would just be a matter of time before it all came together, and five years later it’s finally coming together just like I planned.”

On Monday, UCSC appeared on the Western Region D-III Top-10 poll for the first time in the school’s history.

“I knew that we had a top-10 team,” Boothe said. “I don’t think we need a regional ranking to make it clear that we are an up-and-coming team, but to these girls it means a lot.”

Torlakson, last year’s national qualifier, is out for the season, due to shoulder surgery. Even without its top runner, the early success of this year’s team brings high hopes to the young squad for the rest of the season and for the years to come.

“We set a goal at the end of last season to be in the top five in the region this year,” Orme said. “And now we’re right in the mix for that.”

The Slugs travel to the Gator Invitational at San Francisco State this weekend, and they are taking this confidence boost with them.

“Top five is reality and so now we’re saying ‘Hell, let’s go for third,’” Orme said. “Maybe it is far-fetched, but it’s definitely not out of the picture for us.”