Men’s and women’s cross country head coach Aaron Jacobsen knows it mostly doesn’t matter how well his runners perform until November. While trophies and personal records may track the team’s progress, they are ultimately building up toward one meet, the NCAA West Regionals, which will determine whether the Slugs qualify to participate in the NCAA Championships.
“It doesn’t matter how good or how terrible the teams have been the whole season,” Jacobsen said. “If you’re not in the top two [at West Regionals], then you have to wait on the NCAA selection committee to decide.”
Both teams have participated in three meets this season: the University of San Francisco (USF) Invite on Aug. 31, the Sonoma State Invite on Sept. 21 and the Willamette Invite on Oct. 5.
The USF Invite proved successful for both UC Santa Cruz teams, with the women finishing first and the men second overall in the team Non-Divison I (Non-DI) categories. The runner’s position in the race corresponds to the number of points the runner receives. The top five runner’s point totals dictate how team placings are determined.
For the women, Caitlin Devlin led UCSC with her 19:51.4 time in the 5,000 meter race, earning her second place. Jamie West, Mimi Petersen and Anya Lundeberg finished close after, consecutively in fourth, fifth and sixth place, all with sub-21 minute times. With four runners in the top ten, the Slugs were able to beat San Joaquin Delta College by nearly four minutes and 26 points.
On the men’s side, Tyler Hoyt came in 18 seconds behind the first place finisher in the 8,000 meter Non-DI race to secure fourth place with a finish of 25:49.1. With Hoyt at the front of the pack leading the team, Eddie Strnad and Nathan Platt finished close behind with a ninth and 11th place finish, respectively. While no individual Slug placed in the top three, the men finished second to American River College by 25 points.
“We don’t really focus on any other team or judge our performances too much against how other teams are doing,” Jacobsen said. “Our goal is always to run the best team races that we are capable of running. Right now we are competitive overall but we have no control on how well or how poorly any team is going to run.”
The men’s and women’s teams’ successes switched a month later at the Sonoma State Invite, where the men finished first and the women finished third. The men dominated the field, with all five runners in the top 11, securing the win over CSU Monterey Bay. Behind a second place finish in the 8k by Hoyt, Nicholas Hill, James Cahill, Dane Kreisman and Platt all finished with strong times.
“We are still a young program, but it feels like we are coming together and developing into a solid team,” Hoyt said. “Between upperclassmen committing to the program and a talented recruiting class, we have simultaneously exceeded our expectations and fostered a desire to remain competitive throughout the championship season in November.”
On the women’s team, Mimi Peterson ran UCSC’s lowest time with a 23:51.34 time in the 6,000 meter race for a 10th place finish. The women finished behind CSU Monterey Bay and San Francisco State University.
On Oct. 5 the Slugs traveled to Oregon to take part in the 39th annual Charles Bowles Willamette Invitational, with over 40 colleges participating. Hoyt and Caitlin Devlin both continued to lead their teams with consistently low times. In a tough field, the men finished fourth overall and second against Division III teams.
“Almost everyone ran a PR [personal record],” Hoyt said. “That meet and the weeks leading up to, as well as out of, have us excited for the next six weeks of our season.”
Jacobsen agrees that the Willamette Invite was the men’s strongest meet yet, calling it “possibly the best race of the cross country program’s two plus years of the [current] team.”
Though the women’s team struggled due to injuries, both Jacobsen and Devlin aim for the entire squad to be healthy and back racing by regionals.
“We had satisfying races in Sonoma and Willamette overall but have been missing some key runners due to injury,” Devlin said. “Many of our top runners are currently sidelined with injury, so our main overall goal for the team for the rest of the season is to have everybody as healthy as possible and avoid further injury.”
Continuing to gain speed toward NCAA meets in November, the cross country teams will travel to Cupertino for the Bronco Invite on Oct. 19. Both Hoyt and Devlin say their teams are preparing for upcoming meets with interval workouts, race-specific training and consistent high mileage runs. On Nov. 16, both teams will compete in the NCAA Division III West Regionals at Claremont to try to qualify for the NCAA Division III Championships.
The two teams with the lowest number of points from regionals automatically qualify for the NCAA tournament, Jacobsen said. Without a first or second place team finish, teams must wait to see if the NCAA selection committee grants them an at-large bid through a voting system.
Hoyt points out that continuing to build a young team for future seasons is just as important as making the national tournament this year.
“More than that, there is a broader commitment among the team to the potential of the program with continued levels of commitment, great coaching and consistent recruiting talent,” Hoyt said.