STANFORD, Calif. - The Saint Mary's men's and women's cross country team's headed to the Stanford Golf Course today to compete at the NCAA West Region Cross Country Championships. The race showcased a solid majority of the most talented teams and individuals in the country. The Saint Mary's men showed major improvement over the 10k distance from a year ago when the race was hosted by the Oregon at a similar golf course. The Gaels improved their team time from last season by a staggering 6:06 margin.
"We had some fun today. A few guys could have gone faster and struggled a bit but to average over a minute better per runner in just a year is very good. Our team is going in the right direction. I'll take a six minute improvement any day of the week," said head coach Marty Kinsey.
Leading the way for the Gaels, as he did all season, was sophomore Rajpaul Pannu. Pannu finished the race in 31:12 (89th) and would crush the previous Saint Mary's 10k record (set last season) by 42 seconds. Pannu had quite the season, breaking several school records along the way. "Raj is a beast. He's soft spoken and humble but, when the gun goes off, he has this fire that doesn't quit. I'm glad we have two more years with him. He's a leader who has a desire to get better and a bigger desire to get this team better," said Kinsey.
Next up for the Gaels was freshman standout Nick Ellingson (149th). Ellingson crossed the line in 32:52, claiming the fastest time ever for a Gael freshman and fourth on the all-time SMC list. Following Ellingson, was redshirt junior and team captain James Hayes (154th) finishing in 33:16, just over a full minute improvement from a year ago. Jordan Lerma (165th), who struggled a bit, managed to put his solid summer training to use and finish in a new personal best 34:36, an even two minute improvement from a year ago. Freshman Marc Klunk (168th) closed hard in his first 10k for 35:30 and senior Mark Blucher (170th) finished off his impressive Gael career in 35:58.
"All in all, it was a great ending to a much improved season. We are poised to do great things in the coming years and the foundation these guys have started to build is solid. I couldn't be happier with how everything is working out for this team," said Kinsey.
On the women's side, the lady Gaels saw a "mixed bag" of results. Freshman Cristina Garcia led the team, once again, for her first NCAA race. Garcia finished in 168th place clocking in at 23:10. "Cristy has a bright future ahead of her once we can get a solid block of healthy training under her legs. The inevitable problem with young runners is organizing a training plan that fits a new lifestyle. We just have to hit the reset button," said associate head coach Mark Carberry.
Following Garcia was sophomore Alicia Doohan (179th) in 23:27 and redshirt junior Maria Ahlqvist (188th) in 23:43. The fourth Gael across the finish line was senior Natalie Sojka in her final race with a Saint Mary's jersey. Sojka battled a slow start to finish in 23:53, good for 189th place. Rounding out the scoring was junior Elizandra Obando in 192nd place (23:56) and junior Erin Burke in 196th place (24:03), a ten second lifetime PR.
"For the second year in a row (and second time in school history), we had five women in the 23-minute range or better at an NCAA race. That's a solid foundation to build from considering we only lose one athlete to graduation. This doesn't mean we can be complacent, however. We're going to start increasing base mileage considerably for the women, recruit heavily, and shoot for a strong spring season. We're excited to see this new mindset of "work hard, win easy" take form," said Carberry.
Stanford and the Portland captured the NCAA automatic bids on the men's side. Arizona freshman Lawi Lalang took home the individual honors in 28:34. Washington and Arizona took home the women's NCAA automatic bids. Oregon All-American Jordan Hasay took first overall in 19:44.