Tough Competition Awaits Cal at Pre-NCAA Invite in Indiana

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After intense workouts following the Stanford Invitational, sophomore Keena Kohl expected this week of practice to be lighter for the Cal cross country team as it prepared for its first competition in three weeks.

"Our mileage this week is about 20 percent lighter than normal," she said in an email on Sunday. "We'll probably have a light aerobic workout on Monday, maybe some tune-up or race-pace type work around Wednesday, but other than that, just easy running."

However, during this Saturday's Pre-NCAA Invitational at Indiana State-Cal's first meet of 2009 with major postseason implications-the running figures to be far from easy.

The Bears' top seven male and female runners left Thursday morning for Terre Haute, Ind., and they have a shot at returning to LaVern Gibson Cross Country Championship Course for the NCAA Championships in November.

"The biggest goal is to beat out-of-region teams because that gives us at-large points for later on in the season when we want to qualify for Nationals," said sophomore Deborah Maier, who helped the women finish 15th out of 39 schools at the 2008 Pre-NCAAs.

In separate races for the men's 8,000- and women's 6,000-meter courses, the meet will feature Cal's most talented opposition so far this season. The field includes 13 of the nation's top 20 men's teams and 14 of the top women's squads.

With competition heating up, the Bears' season-long focus on running together as a team will be even more crucial if Cal is to be successful.

"Pre-Nationals definitely goes out a lot faster than any race we've run," Kohl said. "The goal (in practice) is to keep the top five-to-seven girls in one pack for at least 75 percent of the workout."

Both squads will have to put their best feet forward this weekend without the presence of veteran performers.

Sophomore Matt H. Miller, Cal's fourth place finisher at the Stanford Invitational, suffered a foot injury the day after the meet. Meanwhile, Chelsea Reilly is still rehabbing from an earlier stress reaction in her tibia.

The men will receive a boost on Saturday with the season debut of junior Kari Karlsson, the team's top returning finisher from the 2008 Pre-Nationals, after he missed this year's Stanford Invitational because of the flu.

"Kari is in really good shape," junior Steve Sodaro said. "With him back ... we have a pretty solid top five."

Cal runners not competing in the Pre-NCAA meet will still be in action at Saturday's Bronco Invitational in Sunnyvale, Calif., with the men's 8,000-meter race and the women's 5,000-meter event.


Contact Ed Yevelev at [email protected]

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