Saturday, 9:40 a.m.
After only four races, the UCLA cross country teams now have to be prepared to perform in the Pac-12 Championships. But even with this limited preparation time, the Bruins are feeling rested and ready, as the runners who will compete this weekend had a week off after their Wisconsin meet. Junior Daniel Herrera believes that extra week off will allow the team to perform in the heart of the team’s season.
“Now that we’ve got the ball rolling, we’re all doing better in workouts, we’re all feeling stronger and fitter,” Herrera said. “We’re going to try and get after (the win) because it is basically the championship part of the season.”
Given the team’s strong perfomance in Wisconsin, coach Forest Braden has high hopes about the upcoming meet.
“The team has a calm confidence going into this meet,” Braden said. “We had a good Wisconsin meet, but we know there is more there. We know we can do better, and we’re not tapped out and we’re hungry. We don’t want to just finish fourth in the Pac-12, we want to be the best.”
Redshirt sophomore Kelsey Smith said she believes the team’s confidence comes from having more experience than last year’s squad.
Having another year as a team under their belts, she said, not only makes them stronger competitors, but also stronger teammates.
“Last year, we struggled a little bit. We were mostly a freshman team, with all these new girls coming to a collegiate training program, which is a pretty big adjustment,” Smith said. “Now it’s the same team we have going into Pac-12, and so I think it’s having that closeness and training with each other on a daily basis that strengthened our team. We are ready to work as a team instead of compete against each other.”
Braden agreed that this increased familiarity, and the strong team bond it creates, has been instrumental in the team’s success this season. And since this weekend’s meet will take place at the Bruins’ home course, that sense of familiarity and comfort will be even greater.
Braden said that it will not only be beneficial for the runners to know the course, but also to be able to have their fans at the race.
“Southern California is such a strong running community that we will get a lot of support out there. It could help us a lot, and I think the familiarity over the course will really help us,” Braden said. “I think it adds another level of excitement knowing that there will be a lot of people cheering “˜Go Bruins’, cheering you by name.”
California’s reputation as a hotbed of running talent also offers UCLA the opportunity to prove that it can be a nationally competitive team ““ a result that the runners are hungry for.
“We want to go out there and prove that UCLA is back on the map and that we are ready to compete with some of the best teams in the nation,” Smith said.