The Bruins are preparing for what could be their final race of the season.
UCLA cross country is heading to Sacramento to race at the NCAA West regionals Friday. The No. 17 men’s team will face a field that features six other ranked opponents, including teams ranked No. 3 through No. 7, while the No. 36-ranked women’s team is racing against five ranked opponents, including No. 1 Boise State, No. 2 Oregon and No. 9 Stanford.
Thirty-one teams will race at the National Championships in Madison, Wisconsin, next week. Of those 31 teams, 18 will automatically qualify by finishing in the top two in one of the nine regions, and 13 other team must earn at-large bids.
Assistant coach Devin Elizondo said the men’s team will try to move past a rusty performance at Pac-12s and will be ready for regionals.
“The men were sixth and not so far out of fifth at Pac-12s,” Elizondo said. “We had to sit one of our usual scorers (redshirt junior George Gleason) and we had a couple of guys cycling off of antibiotics. We feel like we’re working full strength again at a good time.”
Team captain and redshirt senior Cole Smith said he agreed with Elizondo’s sentiment and that the men’s team is feeling confident that they can return to form for regionals.
“Cross country season is interesting in that it has so few races before nationals,” Smith said. “The races that we have run, we’ve run pretty well. We know what we need to do to make it to next week, and I think that even an average day for us will extend our season.”
The women’s team will look to join the men’s team at the national championships for the first time since 2016. Team captain and redshirt junior Jackie Garner said the team knows that they have to perform well to accomplish the feat, but she thinks this year’s team is different from previous years.
“We were really specific with our goals this year, from anything from going to more office hours to creating recovery groups,” Garner said. “The biggest thing was honing in on the little things; in the past we were always focused on the big goal, but this year we’ve paid more attention to drills, recovery and our form, and we feel the big things are going to come from that.”
Racing begins at Haggin Oaks Golf Complex in Sacramento at 11 a.m. for the women’s team and noon for the men’s team.