Coming off the Pac-12 championships, coach Forest Braden had a lot to be hopeful for in the to-come NCAA rounds.
The men’s team finished third at the Pac-12 championships and the women came in seventh, an improvement for both teams from last year, and the best total score for the men’s team since 1982.
The men’s team is also ranked eight in the nation, its highest ranking since the poll came out in 1997, and second in the Western region. The women are ranked seventh in the latter as well, but outside the top-30 nationally.
This weekend is when that hope will be put to the test, as the UCLA cross country team heads to Sacramento to compete in the NCAA West Regional championship Friday.
“We had a good Pac-12 meet,” Braden said. “We proved that we were one of the best teams in the country.”
Following the meet, four members of Braden’s men’s squad received All-Pac-12 honors. Senior Ferdinand Edman, who’s been the top finisher for the men’s team for most of the year, was named first-team All-Pac-12.
“He’s meticulous with his training,” said Braden. “I’ve never had an athlete who is so aware and in tune with his body.”
Senior Jonah Diaz, redshirt freshman Colin Burke and senior Austin O’Neil were named second-team All-Conference. The four recipients this year mark the most honors received for UCLA since the award first started in 1999.
Now past the conference round however, the NCAAs are a different contest. This weekend is the conference round, and just over a week later will be the national championships, should the teams qualify.
“We just want to qualify for the NCAA championships without wasting too much energy,” Edman said.
On the women’s side, Braden is optimistic.
“I think our women have a good shot at qualifying,” Braden said. “They showed that they have the potential to be on the best teams in the country in the next couple of years.”
He’s counting on sophomores Julia Rizk and Carolina Johnson to lead the women’s team in Sacramento, both of whom led the Bruins at the Pac-12 championship.
“Both have proven that they can run at the elite level,” Braden said. “I look for them to be top-25 runners in the regional championships.”
It is unclear whether freshman phenom Claire Markey will compete in the regionals, according to Braden – she missed the Pac-12 championships because of an injury.
In the week leading up to the conference championships while she was still competing, the women’s team was ranked 23rd in the nation.