Aug. 11, 2005
BERKELEY, Calif. - The California cross country program's future looks bright after adding some talented newcomers to a group of veteran leaders.
The Golden Bears men's team looks to improve upon last season's ninth-place finish at the Pac-10 Championships and 12th-place showing at the NCAA West Regional. Seniors Kevin Davis and Giliat Ghebray will provide leadership to a freshmen-dominated team.
"What we're looking for is not necessarily to have one or two individuals who are outstanding but to have a good competitive team," said Cal head coach Tony Sandoval, who enters his 24th year as head coach of Cal's women's team and 14th season for the men.
Davis was the Bears' second-fastest runner at the Pac-10 Championships as a junior, finishing 33rd with a time of 25:33. He also posted Cal's third-best performance at the 2004 NCAA West Regional, placing 53rd (31:52). Ghebray led Cal at the Roy Griak Invitational and the Penn State Invitational last season and recorded the Bears' second-best time at the NCAA West Regional (52nd, 31:50).
The McClary twins - Andy and Alex - redshirted the 2004 cross country campaign and return with four years of eligibility. Both McClarys are coming off strong rookie track and field seasons for the Bears. Alex placed fifth in the 800 meters (1:48.99) at the Pac-10 Championships, just shy of his PR of 1:48.84, while Andy placed eighth in the 1500 meters (3:48.79) at the conference meet.
The Bears welcome three of the top runners in the state of California - Jake Schmitt, Yosef Ghebray and Mark Matusak. Schmitt claimed the state cross country title and placed fifth in the 3200 meters as a senior at Redwood High School. Yosef, Giliat's younger brother, won the state cross country and 3200 meter crowns as a junior at Logan High School. Matusak, who placed third in the 1500 meters for the United States at the 2005 Pan-American Junior Championships, is a two-time state champion in the same event at Loyola High School.
"Schmitt, Ghebray and Mutusak were all Footlocker finalists," Sandoval said. "Those are three quality newcomers, but it's a big step from high school to college in cross country. We have five freshmen in terms of eligibility that are likely going to be the core of this year's team. They will spend a lot of time cutting their teeth this year, so that by next year, they're ready to run their best."
Cal is the only school in the country which features three athletes who competed at the 2004 Footlocker Cross Country Nationals.
Junior Micah Parker, sophomore Chris Chavez, redshirt freshmen Eric Lee and Sean Carey and freshman Matt Miller are also expected to challenge for spots in the Bears' top seven. Parker competed in five competitions for Cal last season, placing 66th at the Pac-10 Championships. Chavez, who was voted the team's Most Improved Runner as a rookie, was among Cal's top five finishers at the Pac-10 meet and at the NCAA regional.
Carey held off Lee in a photo finish in the 800 meters at the 2004 North Coast Section Championships. Miller teamed with Matusak to lead Loyola to the 2004 state cross country team title.
The Cal women's team is coming off a ninth-place finish at the Pac-10 Championships but expects greater success this season behind the leadership of junior All-American Bridget Duffy and senior Abby Parker. "Bridget and Abby give us a strong one-two punch," Sandoval said. "They will be able to compete with most team's top runners. The challenge is to get some people to back them up."
Duffy, who redshirted the 2004 cross country season, became Cal's first All-American in cross country in five years by placing 42nd at the 2003 NCAA Championships. She has led the Bears in 11 of 12 cross country competitions since her arrival on campus, including eighth place at the 2003 NCAA West Regional and 13th at the Pac-10 meet.
Parker redshirted the 2004 cross country season due to injuries but is primed for a strong senior season. As a redshirt during the 2005 track and field campaign, Parker clocked career-best times of 16:40 in the 5000 meters at the Stanford Invitational and 10:37 in the 3000 meter steeplechase at the Brutus Hamilton Invitational. In 2003, she was the Bears' second-best performer at the Pac-10 Cross Country Championships (41st, 23:47).
Senior Maja Ruznic is expected to be another leader for Cal afte r a solid junior year. Last fall, Ruznic paced the Bears at the NCAA West Regional, placing 60th in 22:09, and was the team's second-fastest runner at Pac-10s (41st, 22:25).
Sophomore Amanda Thornberry should have a bigger impact this year after earning Verizon Junior All-America honors for her sixth-place finish in the 1500 meters at the 2005 U.S. Junior National Championships. She was one of Cal's top five finishers at the 2004 Pac-10 Cross Country Championships, taking 67th in 23:09.
Also looking to crack the lineup are redshirt freshmen Alysia Johnson and Marie Raffray. Johnson garnered All-American honors in track and field in the spring by grabbing sixth place in the 800 meters (2:06.88) at the NCAA Championships. Her personal-best 800m time of 2:05.49 ranks fifth in school history.
Freshmen Gabriela Rios-Sotelo from Berkeley and Mackenzie Pierce from Pfafftown, N.C., are tabbed to be immediate factors in 2005. Rios-Sotelo was the state runner-up in cross country in 2004 and won the 1600 meters and the 3200 meters at the 2005 North Coast Section meet.
Pierce, a two-time Gatorade Track and Field Athlete of the Year for her state, is a two-time state champion in the 200 meters, 400 meters and 800 meters. She twice earned All-America recognition at Forsyth Country Day.
Juniors Samantha Jones, Pippa Macdonald, Whitney Schmucker and Brooke Wells and sophomore Rebecca Yau will be key members of the team again this year. Jones earned team MVP honors last fall after pacing the Bears in three invitationals and posting the team's third-best showing at the Pac-10 Championships (54th, 22:44).
Macdonald made huge strides last season and scored for the Bears at the conference meet as their No. 5 runner (69th, 23:11). Yau was a walk-on for the Bears in 2004 but performed well enough to earn a letter and qualified for junior nationals in the 5000 meters in the spring.
"We have a lot of question marks on the women's side," Sandoval said. "But, the good news is that we have strong leadership at the top of our lineup."
If the newcomers quickly adjust to college athletics, it could be a breakout year for Cal cross country.