LA JOLLA, Calif. -
Following a 10-day high-altitude training camp and team bonding mission at Mammoth Lakes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the UC San Diego cross country team will commence its 2012 campaign on Friday, Aug. 31 with its annual season-opening meet in La Jolla.
"Camp went really well," said Triton head coach Nate Garcia, now in his sixth season at UCSD. "The group looks very strong, and we are excited about the way that the sophomores on the men's side and the freshmen on the women's side have been stepping to the forefront. Although the group is tired coming off of camp, we are excited for the test on Friday."
The men's race, four miles in length, is set to go off at 4 p.m. Friday and will feature Long Beach City College and Point Loma Nazarene. The women will take on Cal State L.A., Cal State San Bernardino, Long Beach City College, Point Loma Nazarene and NCAA Division I squad San Diego State in a 2.5-mile race scheduled for a 4:40 p.m. start.
Garcia has 23 eligible letterwinners from last year returning for this season, including 12 on the women's side and 11 for the men. In addition, both squads have added six first-year runners to the rosters.
The women, who finished eighth at last year's NCAA Division II West Region Championships in Spokane, Wash., return six finishers from that race including their top four.
Leading the pack again this year is junior Chia Chang, who was UCSD's best runner in six races last season. The Anaheim native preceded all Tritons while helping the team secure a fourth-place finish at the CCAA Championships in Santa Rosa (21:34.8, 7th). Chang finished eighth overall at the West Regional (21:46).
Sophomores Michelle Le Roux, Dani Brabender and Alia Bales all return this season and hope to build upon their impressive freshmen campaigns. Le Roux was the second Triton to cross the finish line in all six races she competed in during the 2011 slate while Brabender was UCSD's third team scorer in the Tritons' final five meets. Bales, whose performances surged late in the season, claimed the fourth slot for UCSD at both the CCAA Championships and the NCAA West Regional.
Looking to fill the vacancy left by Aaryn Kobayashi are juniors Ximena Cruz and Samantha Groff and sophomore Madison Tanner, as well as senior Elena Inouye.
The women are predicted to finish ninth in the West Region, according to the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) preseason rankings. Fellow CCAA members Chico State, Cal Poly Pomona and San Francisco State are expected to finish second, fourth and seventh, respectively, in the region. For the fourth year in a row, Alaska Anchorage is picked to finish first in the West.
The UCSD men return three of seven competitors from the 2011 NCAA West Regional, where the Tritons ran to a ninth-place finish.
Junior Kellen Levy placed second among Tritons in four races last season. Juniors Ben Rich and Mario Flores will each compete to make another trip to the Regionals this season. Rich, who was voted Most Improved by the coaching staff last year, finished among the top five Tritons in his last three races, and Flores was one of the top seven UCSD finishers in all races he ran. Of those seven, he figured into the score on three occasions.
Senior Matt Lenehan will redshirt the 2012 season. A San Diego native, he claimed the Tritons' top position in five races and finished among UCSD's top five in all six races he ran in. He placed 37th overall (32:37) at Regionals.
Some runners hoping to factor into the score this season are junior Ryan Lok and sophomores Tanner Collins, Daniel Hauptman and Warren Liem.
The USTFCCCA preseason rankings put the UCSD men ninth in the West. Chico State is picked to top all schools. CCAA rivals Humboldt State, San Francisco State and Cal Poly Pomona occupy slots five through seven, respectively, in the region.
"I'm really looking forward to this upcoming season," Garcia said. "We lost some talented individuals on both teams, but we're excited about our incoming freshmen and the maturation process that the returners have been going through. So far in the preseason, we've seen some real promise from both returners and first-year runners. We're excited to get out on the race course and give them the opportunity to prove what they're capable of."
The Tritons aim to extend their streak of domination in the home opener. In 2011, Chang earned a first-place finish while Michelle Le Roux, Kobayashi, Melissa Le Roux and Jackie Sikkema finished within the top seven. The men finished fourth through eighth with Lenehan, Levy, Flores, Lok and Hauptman, respectively, to complete the UCSD sweep.
After Friday's meet, the Tritons travel to Irvine for the UC Irvine Invitational on Sept. 8 and to Riverside for the Cal Baptist Invitational on Sept. 22. UCSD returns to its domain in October for back-to-back meets. The Triton Classic Invitational and the CCAA Championships will be held on Oct. 6 and Oct. 20, respectively.
UCSD will leave the contiguous United States for the NCAA West Regional Championships in Oahu, Hawaii, on Nov. 3.
-- UCSDtritons.com --