Sept. 25, 2007
BERKELEY - A combination of returning veterans and highly-anticipated recruits make up the hopeful ingredients to the California men's and women's cross country team's recipe for success in 2007.
Head coach Tony Sandoval will look towards his top runners to take a year of experience from a year ago and lead the way this season. He is also excited about the incoming runners, who he is expecting to jump right in and make a big impact immediately.
The Golden Bears' best runner from 2006 returns this year and is looking for another successful campaign. Senior David Torrence leads the Bears after appearing in the NCAA Championships a year ago. Torrence, who was selected to the All-West Region team a year ago, paced the Bears in all four races he competed in last year.
Joining Torrence among Cal's elite are juniors Mark Matusak and Yosef Ghebray. Matusak, the 2005 Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year, recorded two top-25 finishes in 2006. Ghebray took 31st at the Stanford Invitational last year. Both runners were also named to the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association's men's Division I All-Academic team.
"On the men's side, we have a good core of people of who have come back and are a year older and more experienced," Sandoval said. "Placing high in Pac-10s and regionals and getting into nationals is a realistic goal for us. We're a little bit short on experience, so the younger runners are going to have to mature really quick to give us the kind of depth that's necessary in order for us to go on to NCAAs. Yosef and Mark have always shown they're pretty solid. David, Mark and Yosef give us some experience and we should have a pretty good trio up front."
In addition to the three core runners, Cal will look for senior leadership from Chris Chavez. Chavez is the only three-year letterwinner on the team. The 2007 men's squad consists of nine freshmen and only two seniors, so Chavez's leadership will be valuable to the team's success.
Another Bear who will be a major factor is sophomore Michael Coe. Coe, who entered the program as one of the most decorated incoming recruits in program history, will be one of the younger runners that Sandoval said needs to take it to the next level.
"Michael Coe had a fairly good freshman year in track, but he struggled in cross country," Sandoval said. "Last summer he was hurt, but I really expect Michael to step up."
Another sophomore who could make a big name for himself in 2007 is Steve Sodaro. Sodaro recorded a team-best 11th-place finish at the Aggie Open and a 34th-place finish at the Stanford Invitational, recording his best time of the year at 24:44.
Out of the nine newcomers, the runner who comes in with the most hype is freshman Kari Karlsson. Sandoval said Karlsson could be the team's secret weapon. Although he is a freshman, he won't come to Berkeley lacking experience. Karlsson spent the summer competing in Iceland, so although he's new to the college scene, he may not perform like a first-year runner.
The 2007 women's team will rally behind senior Rebecca Yau, the three-year letterwinner who nearly led the Bears in every single race last season. In addition to Yau, Cal will also look to a few newcomers who should step in right away and make an impact.
"On the women's side, we're very young," Sandoval said. "Obviously Rebecca's (Yau) there, but we're going to be relying on younger people and middle-distance people. There's some talent there, but they're going to have to develop and stay healthy."
Yau turned in an impressive 2006 campaign, grabbing 26th place (21:35) to lead the Bears at the Pac-10 Championships. She led the Bears in all but one race last year. Her 2006 campaign also included two top-five finishes, the USF Invitational (3rd) and the Aggie Open (2nd). Her best mark was at the USF Invitational in which she toured the course in 17:51.
Although the cornerstone for Cal's success is Yau, she is not the only piece of the puzzle, and she will have some competition to remain the top runner among her teammates this year. Sandoval hopes another big piece of that puzzle is freshman Chelsea Reilly who may be the Bear's top newcomer this season. Two other returning runners who Sandoval stressed will be key factors for the team are sophomores Alison Greggor and Gabriela Rios-Sotelo.
"Chelsea Reilly will step in and help us right away," Sandoval said. "She had a breakout season in track and field. I see her and Rebecca (Yau) fighting it out to see who the top person on the team is. We do need to get Alison Greggor and Gabriela healthy. They're critical components for us."
Junior Alysia Johnson is hoping her incredible 2007 track season will carry over into the fall. Earlier this year in track and field, Johnson was named the Pac-10 Women's Track Athlete of the Year last season and captured both the NCAA indoor and outdoor 800-meter titles. Her school-record 1:59.29 at the NCAA outdoor meet not only set a school record, but was the third fastest in collegiate history. Johnson also won the U.S. Outdoor Championship in the 800 to qualify for the Pan American Games and the World Championships.
Another freshman that Sandoval will be counting on this season is Taylor Bryson. Bryson was a first-team All-CIF selection for cross country in 2006.
"Taylor Bryson is more of a middle-distance runner, but she placed well last year at the state meet," Sandoval said. "She's going to be counted on to be part of our top seven, maybe even our top five."
Adding depth to the roster will be junior Mackenzie Pierce. Also in the mix is redshirt freshman Rowena Tam. Although Tam didn't compete in cross country last year, she had a strong track and field season, and Sandoval is expecting big things from her this year. Another newcomer who the Bears expect to make a huge impact is junior transfer Araceli Huerta.