Santa Clara's cross country teams are putting the finishing touches on its preparation for the West Coast Conference Championship, to be run at Fernhill Park in Portland on Sat., Oct. 27. Both teams are familiar with the course as they ran in the WCC Preview on Sept. 15 up in the City of Roses. The women's race, a 6K, will begin at 9 a.m. and the men's race, an 8K, will begin at 9:45 a.m.
Bronco head coach Felipe Montoro knows with so many nationally and regionally ranked teams in the WCC, this will be a real challenge for both the Bronco men and women. "We are ready for it for sure," said Montoro. "We have trained all year for us to have our best finish and for us to have our best finish, we will all have to have our best race of the year."
In the latest men's national rankings on Oct. 15, BYU is No. 5 and Portland is No. 17. On the regional rankings on the men's side, BYU is No. 2 in the Mountain Region. Portland is No. 4, Gonzaga is No. 12 and USF is No. 14 in the West Region rankings. On the women's side of the regional rankings, BYU is No. 4 in the Mountain Region; and USF is No. 7, Portland is No. 8 and Gonzaga is No. 13 in the West Region.
The favorites on the men's side are BYU and Portland. Last year the nation's longest-running conference title streak was snapped at 32-straight titles when the then-No. 3 BYU men topped then-No. 10 Portland. Montoro believes that BYU and Portland have separated themselves from the pack as established national forces. "With that said, USF and Gonzaga have run great all year," said Montoro. "Saint Mary's and Santa Clara have both had some competitive battles. LMU has run really well this year too. It's going to be a great meet."
The Bronco men's team is a little banged up on the whole this season, but Montoro feels like right now they are as healthy and the most fit the men have been all year. "We are really looking forward to seeing how they respond to the challenge of trying to get third or fourth," said Montoro.
With Kevin Oliver running in his final WCC meet as a senior, the team is young with four freshmen running at the league championships for the first time: Bryan Crook, Sam Holeman, Adam Perez and Adrian Hinojosa. "Kevin has put himself in a great position to give himself the best shot since he's been here," said Montoro. "It's a young group. A lot of people haven't competed in the post season, so it is a new experience and will be interesting to see how they handle the pressure of a championship meet."
Montoro gave USF a nod as the team that has separated themselves from the pack on the women's side with BYU, Portland and Gonzaga bringing really strong teams this year. "Depth is better than it's ever been on the women's side of the WCC this year," said Bronco assistant coach Pete Cushman. "The conference in general is really strong."
Cushman and Montoro agreed the women have been improving steadily every race this year and are excited to see if that trend continues. "I am excited to see how our women run in that really competitive environment," said Montoro. "We are running to see which teams we haven't been able to beat yet this year, which ones we can compete with on Saturday."
Mary Kreige has been the leader all year and the coaches expect her to be the leader again on Saturday. "Mary has all-conference potential," said Cushman.
The women's strength has been their depth in their pack this year. "They have continued to work really well together," said Cushman. "It's something we have worked on in practice and that is something we have executed in practice as well."