Oct. 31, 2003
The Santa Clara
For 19 years the Crystal Springs Course in Belmont has been home to the West Coast Conference Cross Country Championships. With both the men's and women's teams competing at high levels this season, expectations for Saturday's WCC Championships are loftier than they have been in some time.
On the men's side, the Portland Pilots are the unanimous favorite to come away with the win. This is no surprise to anyone who has followed WCC cross country, as the Pilots have won the last 24 conference titles in a row. A 25th looks extremely likely, as Pilots' senior Jeff Driscoll, who has come within one second of breaking his brother Joe's course record of 24:53, leads a talented team into Belmont.
"Portland's B team could win the championship," said Santa Clara Men's Head Coach John Maloney. "They are that good and that deep this year. Right now, they don't have any competition in the WCC with either their A or B teams."
The battle for second place ought to be waged between the Broncos and the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Santa Clara, hindered by injuries to senior Ricky Brackett and sophomore John Hinman, will likely send junior Chris Doerhoff, senior Ben Gauen, sophomore Pat Green, freshman Taylor Graham, graduate student Michael Neumann and sophomore John Paul Thyken as their top six. The seventh spot is dependent on the health of Hinman, who might still run but will not be at full strength if he does. Freshman Nick Arcelona will run if Hinman cannot, and Brackett's back injury will prevent him from competing in this year's meet altogether.
Another group of three teams will probably compete for fourth place. The second tier is composed of Loyola Marymount, USF and Pepperdine. After those three teams, the bottom of the WCC standings should be filled in by the squads from the University of San Diego and Saint Mary's.
Individually, Portland's Driscoll and senior Ryan Craig have good shots to win the title.
Maloney gave his thoughts on the individual runners in Saturday's race.
"Anyone Portland runs could win the title," said Maloney.
Maloney also pointed toward Bronco senior Ben Gauen, Gonzaga's Ryan Anderson and Joe Manning and Pepperdine's Chad Trammel as likely top 10 finishers.
"I'm hoping for top five," said Gauen, the team's captain and No. 1 runner. "I haven't had my breakthrough race yet this year, and I feel like I'm in good shape, and have been running well the past couple weeks."
The meet this weekend will be the last in Gauen's WCC career, and having never been on a team that finished lower than second, Gauen has the experience to lead the Broncos to a strong showing.
"We've been hurt quite a bit by injuries this season, and we'll really have to run well to beat Gonzaga, but that's our goal; to finish second," said Gauen.
The Bronco women are riding high, having been ranked this month in the West Region's top 10 for the first time in the program's history.
Led by standout freshman Shannon Bell, the Broncos are looking to win the title outright for the first time since 2001.
The WCC Championships will give the Broncos their best chance to date to prove that they belong in the region's top 10.
"The goal for this team was to finish the season ranked in the top 10 in the region," said Head Coach Tom Service. "Right now we're there, but we need to continue having good races to stay where we want to be. With the conference and regional championships coming up, we'll be able to show how far this program has come."
Standing in the way of Santa Clara's title hopes is, once again, a strong Portland Pilots team.
Led by Western Washington transfer and individual title favorite Ashleigh Vincent, the Pilots will be the Broncos' top competition.
"Portland won in 2002, and they brought everyone back this season," said Service. "Plus they picked up Vincent, who has run extremely well. Because of that, they ought to be the favorites this year. But they are by no means unbeatable. I think we can certainly challenge them."
Shannon Bell, the Broncos' top runner, looks to compete with Portland's Vincent and San Diego's Tiffany Marley for the individual crown. Marley, coming off a first-place finish at the recent Santa Clara Invitational in Sunnyvale, has a chance to be the Toreros' first ever individual WCC Champion. A strong finish from Shannon Bell could well give the Bronco team the boost they need to win the team competition.
Junior captain Robin Bell knows that staying in the region's top 10 will take more strong performances from the team, and is confident about the upcoming WCC and Regional Championships.
"One thing we have now that we didn't used to have is the ability of all of our top seven runners to step up when we need to," said Robin Bell. "That's really a mark that shows the positive direction we're headed in because that kind of depth is something that good teams have."
Service echoed Bell, noting that the Broncos' ultra-consistent top seven is their best asset.
"We're going to go with what got us this far, because we know that we're deep enough within that top seven to have anyone step up when we need it," said Service.
Competing this weekend will be senior Milena Basile, junior Robin Bell, freshman Shannon Bell, junior Katie Hansen, freshman Blossom Marimpietri, senior Cara Payne and freshman Lauren Swigart. With Basile and Payne the only seniors among the top seven, the Broncos realize that a win in 2003's WCC Championship could be the beginning of a very strong run in the coming years.
Basile noted that the Championships will have a different feel for the women's team this year. Attaining a regional rank has made the other teams in the WCC acutely aware of the Broncos' ability.
"We feel like other teams are aware of us and take us more seriously than they did even a couple of years ago," said Basile. "We're a pretty confident team, and we think other teams can see that, whereas we used to sort of be in awe at meets, now people take notice of us."
Both the men's and women's teams are hoping for strong showings at this year's WCC Championships. The women enter with very high expectations, while the men hope to surprise the field and jump up towards the second place spot. In both cases, the Broncos hope to continue the trend of improvement that each team has worked hard to build in 2003.