For many on the men’s and women’s cross country teams, the season still has that new “fresh car smell.”
After half of the squad sat out the opening race at the Nevada Chase about three weeks ago, those who haven’t run a mile yet are itching to hit the gas pedal.
The Pac-12 Preview Elite Invitational, taking place Friday at Robinson’s Ranch Golf Club in Santa Clarita, will be the first test drive for those who missed Reno.
“We’re all getting really excited, and we’re all looking forward to it,” said sophomore Annie Mooney. “We’ve spent the last couple weeks in Mammoth getting ready and going over the course.”
Like some of the runners, the course itself will be experiencing its first race. It will also host the Pac-12 Championships on Oct. 27, so gaining experience with the terrain could prove useful in the future.
But for now, the novelty of the course leaves assistant coach Forest Braden not totally sure what to expect come Friday.
“It should be pretty fast,” Braden said. “There are a couple of little hills you don’t notice and some pretty sharp turns, but it’s definitely a quick course. How quick is tough to say right now. We’ll know more after Friday.”
The runners, however, are not at all concerned about the course. Sophomore Lane Werley said it hasn’t affected preparations for the season’s first big meet ““ or his outlook going into the race.
“I’m a whatever-there-is kind of runner,” Werley said. “If there are hills, I can really attack the hills, and if the course is flat, I have decent speed, so I can deal with whatever they give me and race to the best of my ability.”
And while Braden may not know the course, he does know the strengths of his teams.
After recently spending 16 days in Mammoth for altitude training, he said there are solidified packs of the top five runners for both the men and women with deep squads behind them.
Leading that pack for the women will be redshirt senior Katja Goldring, who won the two-mile race at Reno decisively with a time of 11:49, 12 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher.
On the men’s side, the trio of junior Daniel Herrera, redshirt freshman Sergey Sushchickh and redshirt sophomore Jacob Wood will look to follow up their performances in Reno with another strong showing. They took first, second and third places respectively.
Braden hasn’t yet selected which runners he will enter in the invitational portion of Friday’s meet, which is limited to the top nine competitors per team.
But as those who are not selected can still compete in the open race, the meet gives Braden an early opportunity to reveal the depth of his squads, both to themselves and the Pac-12 teams they will face throughout the season.
“The confidence is high. The spirits are high. This is definitely our first big test, so we want to go out guns blazing,” Braden said. “We’re going to try to feed off each other’s energy and hopefully surprise some teams.”