Cal Dealt Unlucky Hand in 2009

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In a way, the Cal cross country team's 2009 season can be defined by tough breaks.

The men were dealt an unfavorable hand before the year started, as the departures of All-American Yosef Ghebray, fellow seniors Mark Matusak and Matt K. Miller, and the redshirting of junior standout Michael Coe left the team short on experience.

On the women's side, hardship came at the end, as Ellie Keene was forced to miss the NCAA regional championships due to injury, while sophomore Deborah Maier fell on the final turn and eventually missed out on an individual nationals berth by one spot.

And in between, both squads faced a string of illnesses to key performers.

Despite the adversity the Bears faced and the disappointment of not making it to the NCAA championships, the team still had impressive accomplishments during the fall campaign.

Most notable was the leadership and break-out years of Maier and junior Steve Sodaro.

"They're both dynamic individuals," coach Tony Sandoval said. "But it helps when you run well. If you can do it with your legs, it makes a lot more of an impact."

Indeed, both runners did nothing but lead by example this season.

Maier racked up top-20 finishes in all five of her 2009 races, including sixth place at the Pac-10 championships -- the Bears' highest individual conference showing in 21 years.

Even while fighting sickness prior to the regional championships, Maier paced the team with a 14th-place finish, the best placement at the meet by a Cal runner since 2003.

"Deborah Maier's emergence was phenomenal," Sandoval said. "She certainly would have been in position to be an All-American."

The All-Regional team honoree led the women's team to a banner year, which included a fifth-place finish at the conference championships -- the school's best since 1988 -- and a No. 27 national ranking at its peak.

"On the women's side we made a step forward," Alison Greggor said. "It was the first time we were a contender for a spot at nationals for a long time."

Meanwhile, Sodaro headlined the men's team with three top-20 finishes, highlighted by a career-best 18th place at the Pac-10 championships and 16th at the regional meet to earn All-Regional honors.

But 2009 also saw the emergence of Cal's young core, as a number of new faces stepped in right away and performed admirably for both sides.

"They performed like a lot of freshman, there were ups and downs," Sandoval said of the newcomers, who had to transition to the larger races and longer distances of collegiate running. "I think a lot of good things happened."

Indeed, Hillary Hayes and Sofia Oberg saw action in nearly every major meet and Keene consistently finished second for the women, while Cody Schmidt joined the men's scoring contingent at both Pac-10s and regionals. Additionally, Renaud Poizat was called "the surprise of the year" by Sandoval after stepping up as Cal's third-best finisher at the conference meet.

"We just need to be consistent," Sandoval said. "I think another year of racing and maturity will help that."

With the women losing just one senior and Coe returning to action on the men's side in 2010, Cal's motivated nucleus of runners on both sides will return with even more experience and added confidence in the team's chances to qualify for nationals.

"We're in really good position," junior Kari Karlsson said. "I think we can do some big things next year."


Contact Ed Yevelev at [email protected]

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