Coming off sixth and seventh place performances at the Nov. 1 West Coast Conference (WCC) Championships, the men’s and women’s cross country teams are looking to place highly in what will most likely be their final meet this fall, the NCAA West Regional Meet, in Colfax, Wash.
At the WCC Championships, the men scored a total of 181 points to earn themselves a sixth place performance out of the nine competing programs in the conference. Last year, the Lions finished in sixth as well, and this season, were slated to finish in the six-spot in the WCC preseason coaches’ poll back in September.
Leading the charge for the Lions this meet was junior Simeon Paul, who tackled the 8-kilometer course in Van Nuys, California in 25 minutes and 17.2 seconds. His performance earned himself 38th place out of 80 total competitors. Not far behind was teammate and sophomore Zach Arias, who notched himself 40th place with a time of 25:20.5. Junior Joseph Garcia (25:30.7, 45th place) and sophomore Max Smith (25:39.8, 48th place) came next for the Lions, and redshirt senior Roc Johnson (25:45.5, 50th place) rounded out the team’s top five.
“We ended up doing as well as we have the last couple of years in the conference,” said Paul. “I think everybody knows that’s not [our] ceiling.”
On the women’s side, the Lions scored 165 points for seventh out of the 10 conference programs. Redshirt senior Kyla Danforth led the Lions on the 6-kilometer long course with a 15th place individual performance, earning her All-WCC second team honors. The Canyon County native has led the team in every competition she’s competed in this fall.
Following Danforth’s 21:18.3 performance, redshirt sophomore Dani Rowlinson (22:01.7) and senior Hannah Wohlenberg (22:03.2) finished back-to-back for the Lions in 36th and 37th place, respectively. Redshirt senior Ann Kelly (22:21.8, 48th place) and freshman Gabriela Hernandez (22:24.5, 50th) finished fourth and fifth for the squad.
“As a team, it was kind of a tough day for all of us,” said Danforth, whose team was predicted to finish fourth at the beginning of the year, according to the conference preseason coaches’ poll. “Collectively, we were all a little disappointed with how we felt and the race itself. It just wasn’t most of our best days.”
And while Danforth was happy with her individual all-conference honors, she said she was looking to finish even higher than she did.
“Some of the girls that finished above me I know I’m capable of beating, and I’ve beaten in the past,” she said. “For me, I was happy because I made it on stage, but also a little disappointed because I know I could’ve been farther up on the stage.”
Looking toward the NCAA West Regional Meet this Friday, both the men’s and women’s team will look to improve upon their 13th and 17th place finishes from 2018.
For the men, Paul said that head coach Scott Guerrero is aiming for a top-15 finish.
“I think that that is a very doable goal,” Paul said. “I think for a lot of the season, we’ve been racing well, so this is just about showcasing how good we are.”
But it has not been all steady for the Lions this fall. Paul pointed out the inconsistency in the team’s order of finishers, an order which has changed from meet to meet.
“We’ve had a lot of different scoring fives,” said the junior. “People have just rotated a lot. Now that we’ve been consistent in training and have guys on the line that are ready to race, we’re in a good spot.”
On the women’s side, the team will try their best to perform at the highest level. This task will be difficult, however, as Hernandez will not be racing at the regional meet.
Despite this, Danforth is excited for what may possibly be her final race as a Lion.
“We’re just going to try to go out there and have the best race for each and every one of us,” said Danforth. “And personally, I’m going to go out and try to stick at the back of the front pack and then just see what happens. Since it is my last cross country race, I’m just going to let it go.”