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UCLA men’s cross country fails to qualify as a team for NCAA championship

Redshirt senior Colin Burke was one of three Bruins from UCLA cross country to individually qualify for the NCAA championships in Terre Haute, Indiana, on Nov. 23. Neither the men nor women could qualify as an entire team. (Courtesy of UCLA Athletics)

By Vinny Lavalsiti

Nov. 17, 2019 9:04 p.m.

The NCAA cross country Selection Show presented its list of the 13 at-large men’s teams to qualify for the NCAA championship this weekend.

But UCLA never ran across the screen, and the Bruins’ expectations of a men’s team bid to nationals fell through.

UCLA cross country competed at the NCAA West Regionals in Colfax, Washington, on Friday. Junior Christina Rice, redshirt senior Colin Burke and senior Garrett Reynolds qualified individually for the NCAA championship Nov. 23 with top-25 finishes in the women’s and men’s races, respectively.

“We had a pretty good idea (qualifying as a team) wasn’t going to happen,” Burke said. “Ultimately, I was just disappointed and embarrassed.”

The No. 10 UCLA men’s squad has been projected as a top-10 team for the past three weeks.

But with an eighth-place finish at regionals, and the loss of its top runner redshirt senior Robert Brandt to an undisclosed injury for the second season in a row, the Bruins’ goal of qualifying as a team was squashed.

“To qualify, you need to have everybody hitting on all cylinders, one through seven, and it looks like we had four out of seven on the day which is – it’s tough,” said assistant coach Devin Elizondo. “I know those guys are really hurting, but most of all the guys at home that wanted to help but couldn’t.”

Burke finished fifth in the 10K at the NCAA West Regionals with a time of 29:58.05, his highest regional placement to date. Burke will be making the trip to Terre Haute, Indiana, for the NCAA championship with his teammate Reynolds after he missed last year’s nationals by one point.

However, Burke said his individual selection to the final collegiate race in his career will be bittersweet.

“Cross country is all about the team,” Burke said. “It feels like I’m leaving a little part of me in Westwood just because the team is not (going to be at the nationals). It’s going to be interesting to line up in the individual box instead of the UCLA box. It’s just disappointing.”

Despite missing Brandt on Friday, who led UCLA in each of its last three races, two other Bruins – Reynolds and redshirt senior George Gleason – set career-best regional race times. Burke said he felt the depth the Bruins displayed at the Pac-12 championships Nov. 1 proved the team still had the tools to qualify for nationals.

[Related: Cross Country finishes 4th, 8th at Pac-12 championship with help of back-half runners.]

“With (Brandt’s) absence, we still had a couple of other pieces we didn’t utilize,” Burke said. “We took a risk and gambled and lost. It’s something we’ll just have to live with.”

Rice was faced with the same reality as Burke at regionals a year ago, missing the individual qualifying mark by one point. Elizondo said the sting from last year helped the two runners notch all-region honors.

“(Rice and Burke were) fighting that pressure of knowing what it took last year and just missing,” Elizondo said. “I think they knew a little bit from that and made decisions late in that race to survive that break and put themselves in a new echelon of running.”

Rice said she found herself lost amidst that break between the leading pack and second grouping of runners two weeks ago in the Pac-12 championship. Having never been with the race leaders, she was forced to chase them, only to grow tired and finish at 17th.

Rice said she made sure to not make the same mistake twice.

“I definitely focused on being aware when that pack was going to make that move,” Rice said. “I think that (the Pac-12 championship) gave me the confidence to know I could go with that group.”

Rice finished eighth in the 6K race at the NCAA West Regionals with a time of 20:06.2, three places behind the Pac-12 champion Stanford triad who finished 14 places ahead of Rice two weeks ago. Rice’s finish was the highest by a Bruin since Ashley Caldwell in 2005.

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Vinny Lavalsiti | Alumnus
Lavalsiti joined the Bruin as a junior transfer in 2018 and contributed until he graduated in 2020. He spent time on the softball, women's basketball, cross country and track & field beats.
Lavalsiti joined the Bruin as a junior transfer in 2018 and contributed until he graduated in 2020. He spent time on the softball, women's basketball, cross country and track & field beats.
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