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UCLA cross country runs personal bests at Pac-12 championships

Redshirt junior Peter Herold runs alongside fellow racers. In this season’s Pac-12 championships, Herold placed 16th to lead the Bruins to a fifth place overall finish on the men’s side. (Courtesy of UCLA Athletics)

By Sam Schuette

Nov. 10, 2022 10:32 a.m.

The Bruins were busy in October.

The month featured three meets in the span of two weeks for the UCLA cross country team, including the Pac-12 championships in Riverside on Oct. 28.

On Oct. 15, the team split up for two races. One group visited Stillwater, Oklahoma for the Weis-Crockett Invitational pre-nationals meet while the others traveled inland to Riverside for the Highlander Invitational.

Coach Avery Anderson said the team was split up based on performance.

“It’s basically the simple decision of who looks the best will go to the pre-nationals meet. They only take seven athletes,” Anderson said. “Then we have others go to Riverside to see what they look like a couple of weeks ahead of the conference championships.”

The Weis-Crockett Invitational presented the Bruins with a new field of competition from schools across the country. Of the 26 competing teams, UCLA and Washington State were the only Pac-12 schools. Notable opponents included Arkansas on the men’s side and No. 3 Oklahoma State on the women’s side.

Redshirt junior Peter Herold said the experience of traveling halfway across the country took a toll on the team.

“We’re waking up at 4 a.m. most mornings to get to a plane ride,” Herold said. “Then we don’t get to the hotel until night. But we learn to manage it pretty well.”

Despite the change of pace, the blue and gold finished in fifth place in the 8,000-meter race. UCLA’s top finishers were juniors Ronan McMahon-Staggs and Michael Mireles, who crossed the finish in 15th and 16th place, respectively. Herold finished at 24:14.6 for 29th place.

On the women’s side, UCLA finished 15th overall. Out of a field of 232 runners, senior Emma Tavella notched a 15th-place finish in the 6,000-meter race with a time of 21:12.9. The race marked Tavella’s fourth consecutive race as UCLA’s top finisher.

Meanwhile, the UCLA athletes who made the trip to Riverside posted similar results against more familiar competition.

At the Highlander Invitational, the women finished third in a field of 26, with the Bruins’ top five runners all finishing inside the top 40. Senior Claire Selleck ran a 20:42.1 to wind up in 12th place and sophomore Anna Weirich put up a 20:45.4 for 13th, each good enough for personal bests.

The men also secured a top-10 position after finishing sixth in Riverside. The top runners finished within seconds of each other, with redshirt junior Mason Ratkovich and junior Anthony Stone – former high school teammates – crossing the line nearly side by side.

Just under two weeks later, the blue and gold faced its toughest challenge of the year in the Pac-12 championships, where it ran the same Riverside course as the Highlander Invitational.

With four top-15 men’s teams and six top-30 women’s teams competing, Anderson said the event was more challenging than anywhere else.

“It (The Pac-12) is probably by far the best distance conference in the country,” Anderson said.

On the men’s side, Herold led the way, finishing 16th overall, and running a personal best of 23:15.08.

“We’ve come a long way from last year,” Herold said. “I think one of the big things is we’re starting to compete with some of these nationally ranked schools, which is great.”

Next for the blue and gold came the junior duo of Mireles in 22nd place with a time of 23:35.5 and McMahon-Staggs in 28th at 23:45.0, who also set new personal bests. Freshman Jai Dawson and junior Anthony Stone finished 45th and 46th respectively to round out the top-five Bruin scorers.

With 142 points across their top-five runners, the men finished fifth collectively. The placement bested their sixth-place finish from the year prior.

“We’ve definitely gotten a lot better,” Anderson said. “We’re continuing to get better, so I think it says a lot about the direction in general. It’s going to add a lot of momentum to what we’re trying to accomplish as we move through the recruiting process and the school year.”

The women finished eighth out of 12 teams. Tavella led the women with a 20:04.7 finish for 30th place. Sophomore Mia Kane crossed the line second for the Bruins and 45th overall with a time of 20:23.4.

Sophomore Angelino Shandro, freshman Kaho Cichon and sophomore Anna Weirich gave the Bruins their final three. In total, all but two of the Bruins’ 10 women captured personal records in the race.

Anderson said the women’s races were very competitive.

“On the women’s side, it’s a very deep conference,” Anderson said. “But I feel good about the effort we displayed.”

The next challenge for the Bruins will be the NCAA West Regional meet in Washington on Nov. 11. Anderson said the team will do its best to reach the national championships.

“By the time we get to the race, there’s no excuse,” Anderson said. “We go ahead and lay it on the line and see if we can advance to the national championship. And that’s what we’re looking to do.”

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