X-Country Passes Early Season Tests with Ease

    With a new head coach and an impressive collection of senior leadership, this year’s cross country team looks poised to improve upon its solid 2006 campaign. Last year, UCSD’s season ended with a 16th-place finish at the NCAA National Championships on the women’s side and a fifth place finish at the NCAA West Regionals for the men.
    At the coaching helm this year will be Nate Garcia, who, in his first year, is taking over after the resignation of Ted Van Arsdale, the previous coach of 15 years. Garcia had previously served as a Triton assistant coach and is looking forward to continuing the tradition of excellence that he was a part of for the last decade as both a runner and a coach.
    “Every year our goal is to make it to nationals,” Garcia said. “We always want to represent the university and the western region. As a new coach I want to maintain consistency with what coach Van Arsdale had established for 15 years. Obviously I am a different coach with different styles so there will be some changes. This program has been so successful that there is no real need to make any big changes.”
    While the rest of the UCSD student body was in mid-summer form with no thoughts of school, the cross-country team was prepping for its season-opening meet against Point Loma Nazarene University on Aug. 25. The Triton men started the season off in fine form, placing seven of the top nine finishers for a 15-point victory. The women, owning three of the top eight positions, took second to the Nazarene Sea Lions.
    The Triton women used their second-place finish to propel themselves to an astounding performance at the UC Irvine Invitational two weekends later. The meet, which was comprised mostly of Division I universities, is one of the toughest on the season schedule. But instead of backing down, the team took it upon itself to prove that UCSD can compete with any school, regardless of division. The women took fifth place out of 20 teams, with the men claiming the sixth-place spot.
    Leading the pack for the Tritons were senior captain Dianne Dunn and senior Emily McGregor, who ran on the women’s five-kilometer course. McGregor’s time of 18 minutes, 24 seconds was the fastest for any non-D-I athlete. Senior Jake LeVieux paced the men, taking the 22nd spot with a very respectable time of 25:33 on the eight-kilometer men’s route. For a team still in the early part of its season, such finishes against high caliber competition serve to motivate the team and give it confidence to win its own conference.
    “It feels good to get a taste of some of the faster teams,” senior captain Ryan Becijos said. “Some of the teams in our conference are just as competitive but overall it’s a good experience for the team.”
    The third meet of the year was hopefully the most foretelling. The Tritons traveled on Sept. 15 to the Southern Stampede, hosted by Missouri Southern State University — the future site of the 2007 Division-II Cross Country National Championships, which will be held in mid-November. In Missouri, the women placed third out of 37 teams with the men taking 11th. Once again Dunn led the Tritons, finishing in 17:49, good for ninth overall. Junior Kevin Klein’s time of 25:36 earned him the 36th place finish on the day. Experience on the terrain where nationals will soon be held gives the Tritons a definite leg up on the competition.
    “The meet was really exciting because all the guys ran fast times,” Becijos said. “It gets everyone excited to travel there later because we already know that we can run well there.”
    This season the men’s team will be a balance of experience and youth. After only graduating one senior from the 2006 squad, the men might look for leadership from sophomore Max Mullender, who was named the California Collegiate Athletic Association Freshman of the Year for 2006. Joining Mullender in the youth department is fellow sophomore Jessie Morrill, who last year was named to the NCAA D-II All-West Region team. These young Tritons can look forward to building on these early successes for years to come.
    Just like their male counterparts, the women lost only one senior to graduation from last year’s team, leaving the 2007 Tritons stocked full of valuable experienced players. Dunn will be looking to duplicate her 2006 NCAA D-II All-West Region accolade while helping her team continue its pattern of national championship appearances.
    “As a team we are looking to place at the conference championships and improve upon last year’s finish at regionals,” Dunn said. “Personally I’m hoping to move up in championship races and to place at nationals.”
    Garcia’s new coaching style and battle-tested experience up and down the Triton roster might just be the perfect combination to lead the 2007 Tritons to Missouri for the national championships.

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