Injuries Run Men Off Course in Cross Country NCAA Championships

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In Terre Haute, Ind., an injury-riddled Cal cross country team couldn't quite solve the puzzle of the NCAA Championships.

The men's team, which had qualified through an at-large bid, rounded out the meet with a last-place finish out of 31 teams.

"It was a tough day for us, a lot of expectations, a lot of disappointment, but the reality is the toll of the season had caught up with us," head coach Tony Sandoval said. "At nationals, if you're off one percent, that's 50 places. If you're off 2-percent that's another 50 places."

The Bears' lead runner and regular top-10 finisher, Michael Coe, had irritated his Achilles tendon and completed the 10,000-meter course in 31:05 - good for 76th out of 210 runners. Steve Sodaro, the back-up act to Coe, had a bad case of shin splints, and didn't run in practice at all between the regional and the championship meets. His time of 33:35 was not one of the Bears' top five scoring finishes.

As for the other teams, the Oklahoma men secured their second consecutive national championship, while the Villanova women became repeat champions as well. From the Pac-10, the Bears' biggest competition on the men's side finished strongly: Stanford came in fourth and Oregon in sixth-place. The women's rivals also placed respectably with Arizona in 11th, the Ducks in 12th, and the Cardinal in 13th.

Given such a dramatic fall for the men, the weight of previous qualifying matches had probably taken its toll on Cal's runners at LaVern Gibson Championship Course.

"We ran so inspired and stepped it up during Pac-10's and especially at regionals," Sandoval said. "Having eight days to turn that around, we were not 100-percent physically ready."

On the other hand, Deborah Maier's 30th-place finish in the individual competition bodes well for the future of Cal cross country. After finishing as the runner-up in the regional meet, the junior completed the 6,000-meter course in 20:43.7 to earn All-American honors.

While Sandoval said, "it was a little harder for her as an individual as opposed to being on a team," she still competed strongly at a national level, and has already proven herself to be a leader for the women's team as they set their sights on the next season.

"I think the women will probably be in an open bid situation to (qualify) next year," Sandoval said. "We have everybody coming back from this year's team, including one senior (Maier). We had two redshirts that were in our top-5 last year, so we're going to have the depth that we haven't had in previous years."

The men are not as lucky in matriculation matters. Coe, Sodaro, and Kari Karlsson are all seniors who helped lead the team to its third championship berth in four seasons.

"We're losing our three best seniors, two of which are All-American, the other has been an All-Regional performer a number of times," Sandoval said. "They're going to be tough to replace."


Samuel Farahmand covers cross country. Contact him at [email protected]

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