Santa Clara Cross Country Heads to NCAA West Regional

Nov. 14, 2008

Running in maybe the toughest cross country region of the nine regionals nationally, Santa Clara's cross country teams will compete in the NCAA West Regional Championship on Sat. Nov. 15 in Palo, Alto, Calif. The women's race, a 6K, will start at 11 am and the men's race, a 10K, will begin at Noon. The teams are competing advance to the NCAA Cross Country Championships on Mon., Nov. 24 in Terre Haute, Ind.

Bronco head coach Tom Service is excited about the task in front of the teams, but also understands what the Santa Clara teams are running up against. There are two automatic qualifiers on each side and the field is stacked at the top in the latest national poll (Nov. 4).

Consider this:

On the men's side in the NCAA West Regional the top three of four teams nationally will be running at Stanford including: No. 1 Oregon, No. 3 Stanford and No. 4 Portland. In addition, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is ranked No. 19, Cal sits at No. 20, Washington at No. 23 and UCLA at No. 26.

On the women's side in the NCAA West Regional Washington is ranked No. 1 in the country with Oregon right on its heels at No. 2. Also in the top 20 are No. 11 Stanford and No. 16 Arizona State.

"You have to go into this race with different expectations because we aren't a team that has a chance this year to qualify for the NCAA Championships, but that's our ultimate goal," said Service. "On the women's side we have several goals and because we have four seniors running what might be their last cross country race in college - it's the subplot."

On the women's side, they are shooting to top the best finish ever for the Broncos - 13th place in 2003 and Service calls it `the carrot that's always there.' In addition, the women will be looking to top the Broncos' highest finish individually, 32nd by Shannon Bell the same year. The four seniors include Veronica Vazquez, Noelle Lopez, Whitney Porter and Anna Wheatley. They have talked to Coach Service all week about trying to finish in the top 15.

"They have set very lofty goals," said Service with a smile. "Another goal for us to finish at least in the same position we finished in at the WCC Championships, third, and also aim to knock off the champion (Portland) or the runner-up (LMU)."

For the men, assistant coach Felipe Montoro sees it as a chance for the men to see where they stack up against the top teams in the country. Everyone returns in 2009 for the Broncos, with the exception of senior Chris Gumbs.

"This race is important because the more times the younger guys on our team race against this caliber of competition, the better they will be in the long run," said Montoro.

The men are led by first-team All-WCC runner, sophomore Robbie Reid; and Alex Harkins, who was named to the All-WCC second team after five weeks of training due to injury.

"We want this to be a really good experience for guys like Robbie. We expect him to be competitive in the future with the Pac-10 type athletes; and this is the first step in that long type of process," said Montoro.

Service is also excited for both teams because this is what they have been training for since day one.

"We feel this should be our fastest race of the year and all of our workouts are geared towards it," continued Service. "The kids are very fit right now and running fast. Both teams are really excited to run. It looks like a daunting task - all those top 10 teams. They do care whether we finish 20th or 15th and want to finish cross country season on a high note which will help us in our winter training for track season."

Montoro said in a race like this it's hard to use their WCC Championship philosophy - which was pick people off in the second part of the race.

"We have to balance between staying close enough to the main pack so you can pick them off in the second half and not be the one being passed," said Montoro.

"We will use this as a stepping stone for our program," said Service. "We might not qualify for the NCAA Championships this year, but the closer we get to the top seven or eight teams in our region, the more realistic goal it will be in the next few years."