Men's Cross Country Makes First NCAA Appearance

By Will Moine, Daily Cal Contributing Writer
This story was originally published in the Daily Californian on Tuesday, November 27, 2007. Click here for original version.

Reprinted by permission.

'In collegiate cross country, there is a lot of competition but not a lot of competitions.'With these words, coach Tony Sandoval articulated that the road to the national championships for the 2007 Cal men's and women's cross country teams would be full of potholes, divots and general rough terrain--something the men knew all too well.

In 2005, the men's team finished in third place in the Pac-10 championships, but they failed to achieve their goals the rest of the year and fell apart towards the end of the 2006 tour.

Therefore, the 2007 campaign began as a season of retribution, one which the Bears dedicated to proving they belonged on the national stage.

'We were definitely on a mission this year to prove that we are a powerhouse cross country school,' sophomore Michael Coe said.

The men laid the foundation for an optimistic future for Cal cross country as they placed 16th in the national championship race--the first time the men's team had ever qualified for the competition.

Starting off with a bang, the men placed fifth overall in October's Pre-NCAA race, vaunting the team to No. 8 in the polls--its highest position ever.

From there, the season snowballed as the team achieved its goal of placing in the national race.

Part of this success stemmed from senior David Torrence. Returning from his successful 2006 cross country season, Torrence won over his teammates and stepped up as the leader of the team throughout the course of the season.

'I like to call us a band of brothers and he is definitely the leader,' Coe said. 'He is the most dedicated, hardest worker on the team and he leads both vocally and by example.'

While Torrence was the undisputed leader of the team, Cal's success did not end with him, as he only paced the Bears in two races this season--the Pre-NCAAs and the NCAAs.

Rather, one of Cal's biggest strengths this year was the top five's ability to step up and run hard as a team, even when Torrence had an off-day.

Leading the team effort, junior Yosef Ghebray paced the team in the Pac-10 championships and the West Regionals, finding redemption for his struggles in 2006 when he had to bow out of both the Pac-10 championships and the West Regionals because of exercise-induced asthma.

'I learned some life lessons from my hardships last year--I learned that you can always bounce back from anything, no matter how bad it may be,' Ghebray said.

Ghebray may be able to bring this momentum into the next season as one of the four returning top-five runners, which paints a bright picture for the Bears next season.

On the other hand, the women did not achieve the same amount of success as the men, but finished their season in promising fashion at the West Regionals. They finished in a seemingly paltry ninth place but actually outran USC, Arizona and Oregon State--teams which had beaten them at the Pac-10 championships.

Paced by a one-two combination of old and new, the women, led by senior Rebecca Yau and freshman Chelsea Reilly, placed second at both the USF Invitational and the SFSU Invitational early in the season.

While it came as no shock to many on the team that Yau paced the Bears in two events, the true surprise of the women's team this season was the immediate impact of Reilly, who led the women in three of the five races she competed in.

'She has a lot of ability, she's highly motivated, and she runs aggressively,' Sandoval said.

Seeing the future with bright eyes, Reilly looks to lead the women in the years to come.

'I have good motivation, great coaching, and I hope there are bright things ahead for us,' Reilly said. 'I had a solid season and developed a good base for track and I am definitely hoping to do things there and next season in cross country.'

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Torrence does not have another season to look forward to, making the nationals an emotional race for him.

'Towards the end of the race I started thinking about it more and more but I have no regrets with our season this year,' he said.

While Torrence may miss running for Cal, he can take solace in the knowledge that he helped the Bears gain a position among the upper echelon of collegiate cross country.

'After regionals and nationals, we proved that our performance at Pre-NCAAs was not a fluke and we really are up there with the better cross country schools in the country,' Sandoval said.

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