Both the UCLA men’s and women’s cross country teams are headed to the national championships for just the second time since 1985.
The race will be held at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course for the eighth time in the past 10 years Saturday morning, in what’s projected to be 46-degree weather – a stark difference from the balmy 70s of the regional championships.
At those regional championships, the UCLA women’s team placed sixth out of the 35 teams. The men’s team claimed a third-place finish.
“I am proud of the way both teams competed last week,” said coach Forest Braden. “The leaders on each team stepped up and did a great job setting an example. The rest of the runners fed off of what the leaders did.”
This will be the 15th appearance in the national championships for the women’s team and the 11th for the men’s.
At last year’s event, UCLA alumnus Lane Werley paced the Bruins with a 21st-place in the 10K race with a 30:13.0 time. Sophomore Carolina Johnson was the lone Bruin from last year’s women’s team, placing 75th with a time of 20:40.7 in the 6K.
The men’s team placed 14th out of the 31 teams last year, in large part due to last year’s seniors – Sergey Sushchickh and Nick Hartle crossed second and fourth for UCLA, respectively. The rest of last year’s squad consisted of three juniors and a sophomore, some of whom will be heading to Indiana this coming Friday.
Seniors Jonah Diaz and Ferdinand Edman, after topping the list of Bruin runners at the regional championships Friday, will race in their third national championship, and redshirt senior Austin O’Neil will return for his second.
“The goal is to obviously win the national championship,” Braden said. “All year long, the motto has been to take care of business and we have the confidence necessary to take us where we want to be.”
While there’s veteran experience on the men’s side – junior Daniel De La Torre is also in the UCLA seven – there’s a fair share of underclassmen as well. Redshirt freshmen Colin Burke and George Gleason and sophomore Jackson Marshall crossed in 31st, 59th and 44th, respectively, Friday.
In contrast, only two of the seven women who placed at the Western regionals were upperclassmen. Johnson crossed first in 21st place, but freshmen Claire Markey, Cassandra Durgy and Jackie Garner finished 30th, 52nd and 61st. Sophomore Julia Rizk finished two spots behind Markey, and junior Veronica Yamane finished 59th.
“This year’s team had a positive attitude and energy throughout the season,” Braden said. “The culture of the team allowed the younger members to feed off of what the older guys did. It was a learning environment.”
Now just days away from the most important run of the year, the time for learning is over, however. In both men’s and women’s cross country, UCLA has a total of zero national championship titles.