Finishing Strong Could Be Cal's Key at Pac-10s





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Cal cross country coach Tony Sandoval gave a clear indication of what the team must improve on from its performance at the Pre-NCAA Invitational two weeks ago.

"I thought we were in pretty good shape for most of it," he said. "We just need to work on finishing a little bit better. In the last 1,200 meters, we can't fall apart ... We really need to step up."

Indeed, senior Alison Greggor noted that had the women's scoring runners placed about 10 spots higher, the team would have accomplished its goal of a top-10 finish, instead of finishing in 13th place.

Today, Cal gets its final chance before the mid-November NCAA Regionals to work on finishing strong as a team in a meet situation, as the Bears compete at the Sky Links Golf Course in Long Beach, Calif., in the Pac-10 Championships.

The race, which features an 8,000-meter men's course and 6,000-meter distance for the women, has always been notable for elite distance running, and this year's meet will be no different. This weekend's event features the perennial West Regional powerhouse programs of Stanford, Oregon and Washington.

All three schools have both their men's and women's squads ranked in the nation's top 15, with the Ducks' men and Huskies' women coming off top overall finishes at the Pre-NCAA Invitational.

The Cal men, racing without three of their top runners from last year, will be hard-pressed to top their consecutive third-place finishes in 2007 and 2008-the program's highest overall placement ever at the Pac-10 Championships.

However, the Bears will be more concerned with making sure the team is in top shape for West Regionals than with matching history today.

Both the men and women currently rank just outside of the nation's top 31 teams that will qualify for the NCAA Championships, and Sandoval is looking for the race to be a positive momentum builder for the all-important season finale.

"(Pac-10's) doesn't reflect anything in terms of an at-large bid, but it's a nice rehearsal," Sandoval said. "And we certainly want to be on an ascending trend."

To hit that trend, the Bears will need to battle through yet another string of illnesses.

"It's the story of our season," said Sandoval, who was carrying tissues himself during practice on Monday. "We're going to have to juggle (the lineups) a little bit."

However, Greggor expects the team to make the most of the race and be in top shape for Regionals.

"It's hard when you get to this part of the season, but you always end up with a couple of people that have something bugging them physically," she said. "Teams that do well are ones that don't let it get to them mentally."

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Contact Ed Yevelev at [email protected]



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