LA JOLLA, Calif. - After spending 10 days in Mammoth for their annual altitude training and preseason bonding activities, the UC San Diego cross country teams are set to open the 2011 season with a home meet this Friday.
UCSD will square off with Cerritos College and Point Loma Nazarene in both races for the second year in a row, while Cal State L.A. will join the field in this year's women's competition. The women's race, which will cover a distance of 2.5 miles, is scheduled to begin at 4:00 p.m., while the four-mile men's race is slated to follow at 4:40.
Head coach Nate Garcia enters his fifth season at the helm in 2011 and welcomes back a total of 10 letterwinners on the women's side and nine returning athletes on the men's squad. UCSD will also have the services of 15 talented newcomers, with the women's team ushering in eight recruits and the men welcoming five freshman, one transfer and a junior walk-on into the fold this season.
Headlining the list of returners on the women's side is junior Jackie Sikkema, who was named the team's Most Valuable Racer after finishing in UCSD's top five in seven of the squad's eight races in 2010. A native of Haddonfield, N.J., Sikkema was the Tritons' top finisher at the CCAA Championships in Whittier (23:14.0, 25th), while also helping UCSD claim 14th place at the NCAA West Regional Championships in Bellingham, Wash. (25:06.2, 74th).
Also returning in 2011 are sophomores Chia Chang and Kamilah Foley, who both had tremendous rookie campaigns a year ago. Chang was the team's top finisher on three different occasions and scored for the Tritons in six out of her seven races, while Foley came on strong towards the end of the year and finished in the squad's top five in four of UCSD's final five events.
The Tritons will also look to seniors Aaryn Kobayashi and Kathryn Turner and juniors Catherine Crisp and Heather Hisgen for veteran leadership in 2011. Elena Inouye, who was a standout as a sophomore in 2009, returns for her junior campaign as well after redshirting last season.
"We return four of our five scorers from last year’s conference meet and we’ve also got Elena back from her redshirt year, so we’re really looking to make a jump on the women’s side this season,” Garcia said. “And we expect our freshman to make an immediate impact so we’re being very aggressive with our goals. Given what we’ve seen in training so far, I really like where we’re at and I think we can be a much better team than we were a year ago.” "
UCSD's men, who begin the season ranked eighth in the West according to the latest USTFCCCA regional poll, will be looking to fill the void left by the graduation of All-CCAA performer Jesse Morrill and Patrick French. Among the leading candidates to carry the torch is junior Matt Lenehan, who finished in the Tritons' top five in six out of eight races and recorded a pair of top-10 finishes. His best showing came at the Triton Classic when he finished seventh overall with a 10k time of 22:27.8.
Another runner to keep an eye on is sophomore Kellen Levy, who was named the team's Freshman of the Year after scoring in six out of the seven events he took part in in 2010. He was UCSD's top finisher at the Bronco Preview Meet with an impressive time of 25:51.9 and earned CCAA Freshman of the Year honors after finishing 18th at 25:38.6 on the same course two weeks later.
"We have a couple holes to fill on the men’s side, so we’re starting the year with a some vacancies in our top five,” Garcia continued. “We’ve got a great pack right now, but it remains to be seen who is going to step up and fill that leadership role for us. It will be interesting to see if we remain a pack team all year or if someone can become a frontrunner.”
UCSD has been dominant in its home opener in recent years and both squads will look to continue that trend on Friday. Led by Morrill's first place finish, the Triton men secured five of the top six times en route to a dominant team victory a their opener a year ago, while Chang, Kobayashi and Sikkema finished in the top eight to lead the women to a second place showing behind PLNU.
Following this weekend's race, UCSD will once again take part in the Asics/UC Irvine Invitational on Saturday, September 10, before facing more Division I competition at the San Diego State Invitational on September 17.
The Tritons' schedule features a total of seven events in 2011, including the NCAA West Regionals, which are scheduled for Saturday, November 5 in Spokane, Wash. UCSD will once again host its annual Triton Invitational on Saturday, October 8, before heading to Sonoma for the CCAA Championships on October 22.
For the team's complete schedule, click here.