Cross country sees 1st women’s All-American since 2005 at NCAA championships
Junior Christina Rice rose 25 spots in the last 2,000 meters of the women’s 6K race at the NCAA championships in Terre Haute, Indiana, on Saturday. Rice placed 37th in the 6K, earning All-America honors – the first for the women’s program since 2005. (Courtesy of UCLA Athletics)
Nov. 24, 2019 7:01 p.m.
This post was updated Nov. 24 at 11:15 p.m.
Dozens of coaches shouted from the sidelines to their runners in the final stretch of the women’s nationals race.
Coach Austin O’Neil pointed to the runner ahead of junior Christina Rice and yelled that the runner was in 35th place. And it was during those final 800 meters with O’Neil’s encouragement that Rice said she believed in a top-40 finish.
UCLA cross country sent three runners to compete at the NCAA championships in Terre Haute, Indiana, on Saturday. Rice finished 37th in the women’s 6K race and senior Garrett Reynolds and redshirt senior Colin Burke finished 84th and 121st, respectively, in the men’s 10K race.
Rice, competing in her first NCAA championships race, said she sprinted out of the individual box behind the Washington runners with a game plan to slowly work her way up.
Through 2,000 meters, Rice was 83rd. Through 4,000 meters, she was 62nd.
By the time Rice crossed the finish line at 20 minutes, 44.3 seconds, she placed 37th – good for the first All-America honors for a UCLA woman since Ashley Caldwell in 2005.
“I didn’t have a good gauge of where I was going to end up so I kind of went out there and tried to replicate the same race I had at regionals,” Rice said. “To have such a big result means a lot. It definitely makes it a little more special.”
The women’s race saw the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in desirable conditions, according to coach Devin Elizondo. But the factor of an already-trodden course gave Reynolds and Burke the added troubles of mud and poor footing for the men’s race two hours after the women’s.
“That’s as tough of a day as I’ve seen on that course,” Elizondo said. “And I’ve been there in years where they’ve flown in the National Guard helicopters to dry out the starting line. … From the women’s race to the end of the men’s race, it progressively got more Midwestern. It got a little darker, a little rainier and a little sloppier.”
Reynolds said the conditions derailed his plans to move up with the runners in the top 40 in the second half of the race. Instead, Reynolds dropped from 59th halfway into the race to 84th, which is where he would finish.
Reynolds and Burke have raced together for the past four years and have finished in tandem in every race dating back to the 2017 NCAA championships.
Reynolds said having Burke by his side made the season-ending race special.
“It was not quite the same feeling as lining up in the team box, but it was really nice to have (Burke) right there next to me,” Reynolds said. “I wasn’t completely on my own. We had each other in that race, which was nice. … (Burke) and I have both dedicated a lot of time and energy this season so I think it was rewarding for us both to be at the national meet and be there together.”
Reynolds and Burke missed out on All-America honors with their finishes. Elizondo said the effort put into qualifying individually at the NCAA Western Regional on Nov. 15 taxed their bodies, but it shouldn’t discount their results at nationals.
“Every year, you can look down the results of the national meet and see All-Americans from the year before well past the 150 mark on the results sheet,” Elizondo said. “Portland wasn’t the same team off the regional meet, Washington wasn’t the same team off the regional meet. The West is tough to make it out (of).”