Saturday, for just the second time, both the UC San Diego men’s and women’s cross country teams will be competing at the NCAA Division II Championships in the same season. This year’s event will be held on the campus course of Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, MO. The Triton men’s team earned its trip to the NCAAs with a third place finish at the Nov. 3 West Regional meet in Boise, ID. One of the mainstays of Coach Nate Garcia’s squad has been junior Kevin Klein. After competing in just two meets last fall, the Shoreline, WA native has stepped to the forefront and been one of UCSD’s most consistent performers in 2007. “This has definitely been a breakthrough year for Kevin,” said Head Coach Nate Garcia. “He’s seemingly mastered the ability to drive the pack late in a race whether he’s personally having a good day or not. Kevin’s also developing his own leadership style and sets a good example for the rest of the team in training as well as races.” With the season’s biggest race looming, Klein took time to discuss the team, the season and his sport.
Q—How does it feel to be making your first trip to the NCAA Division II Championships?
KLEIN— The last time the men’s team went to Nationals was the year before I was a freshman so this is a new experience for all of us. We’ve all been really excited since the Regional race. This is the pinnacle of collegiate competitive running so it doesn’t get any better than this. I’m really proud of everything the guys have accomplished this season.
Q—The team raced at a meet in Joplin earlier this season. What can you tell us about the course?
KLEIN— Although there is little overall elevation change, it’s a deceptively technical course. It takes a lot of concentration to run the course well, but if you stay focused the course rewards you with a very fast time. Also it’s entirely on fairway-length grass, which is easy on the feet.
Q—UCSD was able to get the last of the three NCAA berths out of the West Region. It was a tight finish. What were the keys to the team’s success in that race?
KLEIN— We stuck really well to our racing strategy of getting out in a good position for the first mile and then having certain people lead surges throughout the race to keep our pace up. I think the reason that it worked so well for us is that we all believed that we deserved to go. In the end, it was our ability to run a really tight 1-5 pack time (23 seconds) that was the reason we were able to edge Western Oregon for third place.
Q—How much strategy is involved in a typical cross country race?
KLEIN— With races that can last anywhere from 24 to 32 minutes, you need a plan for your team and yourself in order for to maintain the focus necessary to run your best race. Keeping your pack together, getting around turns as fast as possible, running hills well and other strategies can do a lot to either make or break a race for you and your team.
Q—In gauging the performance of an individual cross country runner, what type of relationship exists between speed, training and mental toughness?
KLEIN— I think, of those, mental toughness is the most important. If you have enough drive and determination you will be able to get the most out of your training which will lead to good performances. Also, in races, if you’re tougher than the guy running next to you, you have exactly what it takes to beat him every time.
Q—Which of your teammates do you feel has had the most consistent 2007 season and which has the most upside going into the NCAA meet?
KLEIN—Daniel Anderson has undoubtedly had the best season on our team. He has finished as our No. 1 runner in four out of the six races he has run. And both Jesse Morrill and Greg Geldman are coming off best-of-the-season races at the Regional so I think they have the momentum to do really well at Nationals.
Q—Did you participate in other sports prior to college?
KLEIN—I played club soccer for a long time and also played baseball and wrestled in high school.
Q—What elements do you like most about cross country?
KLEIN—My favorite thing about cross is the team-oriented nature of the sport. You have successes or failures as a team and work together to overcome challenges. Running for your teammate next to you is ultimately more rewarding than running for yourself. Also, running races across challenging terrain makes racing more interesting than just running circles around a track.
Q—Were you surprised at the retirement of long time Triton cross country coach Ted Van Arsdale this past summer and having former Asst. Coach Nate Garcia take over the program?
KLEIN—Ted was definitely a well-liked and respected coach by both his runners and other coaches around the nation and I don’t think many of us were expecting him to retire yet. However, already having a track season with Nate as our coach and because he has had experience with the program for several years, our team was able to make the transition fairly easily.
Q—What factors were involved in your decision to attend UCSD?
KLEIN—I knew I wanted to major in a scientific field and knew of UCSD’s outstanding national reputation in the sciences. I also really wanted to experience something new and different from Seattle and you can’t beat UCSD in its location and San Diego for good running weather.
Q—You’re an aerospace engineering major. How challenging have you found that program at UCSD? What are your short and long term career plans?
KLEIN—I don’t think anyone enrolls in this major because they think it is easy. Engineering at UCSD is notoriously challenging but the faculty and the opportunities extended to us as students are as good as any in the nation. As far as a career, I would really enjoy working with composite/lightweight materials in either a design or a testing position.
Q—You have all sorts of interests and list cliff jumping as one of your hobbies. What’s the scariest experience you’ve had in the great outdoors?
KLEIN—On a backpacking trip in Washington when I was 16 a few of us kids went exploring and met two black bear cubs and their mother. We were within fifty feet of the bears and didn’t really know what to do. Luckily when they saw us they were just as scared of us and after staring us down for a few seconds took off into the woods.
Q—From both a team and individual perspective, what do you feel would make Saturday’s NCAA Championship a success?
KLEIN—Our goal all season has been to make it to the National Championship race so we feel like this season has been a success already. As far as the race is concerned, I think, team-wise, we’re capable of placing as high as the top 10, if we all run strong races. Personally, I’m looking to improve on my time from the last race and to test myself against the top runners in the nation.