The best 250 runners in the country all jostled for position as they began their last 10,000 meters of the year.
“At the start, it feels like you’re in a dead sprint,” sophomore Colin Burke said. “There are people falling to your left and right. You’re getting hand-checked by people. It’s a lot more physical than you might think.”
On Saturday, the men of the UCLA cross country team competed at the NCAA finals in Louisville, Kentucky. The Bruins, who entered the day ranked No. 16 in the country, finished 21st out of 31 teams in the 10K race.
The Bruins were led by junior Robert Brandt, who returned to action Saturday after sitting out at the West Regionals with a quad injury. Brandt finished 88th overall, clocking in at 30:34.36.
Second for the Bruins was Burke, who crossed the finish line at 103rd overall with a time of 30:44.99, in what assistant coach Devin Elizondo described as arguably his best showing of the year.
However, in terms of team placement, the result was disappointing for a UCLA team with the stated goal of a top-10 finish, according to sophomore Garrett Reynolds.
“There’s definitely disappointment,” Reynolds said. “We all know what we’re capable of. Only three weeks ago (at the Pac-12 finals), we beat Oregon, who finished in sixth today. We know we have the pieces to be there. We just weren’t quite all there today.”
Reynolds, who finished third for the Bruins and 121st overall, said he thinks physical limitations held them back toward the end.
“Our legs just didn’t quite have it in the second half, compared to the other teams,” Reynolds said. “I think fatigue was a huge factor, if not the biggest. All season long, we run 8K races. Then, at West Regionals, we run a 10K, and then eight days later we do another 10K at nationals. It’s a lot more on your body.”
Redshirt senior Myles Smith, who placed 127th, and redshirt junior Jackson Marshall at 136th were the other scoring runners for the Bruins. Redshirt sophomore George Gleason and redshirt senior Daniel De La Torre rounded out the seven-man squad, at 164th and 171st, respectively.
Elizondo said he is proud of the team’s performance in making it to the championship, regardless of the season’s ending.
“This sport is not easy,” Elizondo said. “But it is what we love, and to be able to finish the year on the line at the final competition of the season is what we want to do every year.”
Reynolds, meanwhile, believes that the culture within the team will help lead to its continued success.
“We’re disappointed with 21st in the country. I think that really speaks to where we’ve come as a program,” Reynolds said. “I think that shows where our minds are at and where our goals are.”