Gone is coach Drew Wartenburg, but distance coach Devin Elizondo believes his UC Davis cross country squads aren’t going to miss a step in transition.
“A lot of great things happened on the track in the spring,” explained the second-year assistant.
Most notably, the Aggie women’s track team — with a huge contribution from the distance runners — won their third consecutive Big West Conference crown.
Led by a pair of former Davis High runners in graduated Grayson Hough and now-senior Trevor Halsted, the UCD men’s track team also was dominant in the long trips.
While many coaches believe the cross country season translates into a tune-up for the track season, Elizondo says there is evidence among the Aggies that the dynamic of prepping for the next year can be reversed.
“I think track-and-field helps prepare for cross country as much as (the other way around),” the former UCLA distance dandy told The Enterprise.
Elizondo has only one woman returning from a cross country squad that took seventh at the 2013 NCAA Regionals. But that woman — Camarillo native Raquel Lambdin — is a clock-stopper.
During the track season, Lambdin’s 4:20.89 in the 1,500 meters was good enough to place her among the nation’s top runners and send her to the NCAA finals in Arkansas.
“Rocky really came into her own this year,” Elizondo said. “She’s knocking on the door for the school record at the distance. I just really like her personal development.”
Elizondo says Lambdin is a clear team leader who “has taken to that role really well.”
Christine Hoffman (San Luis Obispo High) is a junior who will run cross country this fall after winning the Big West 10,000-meter event and taking second in the 5,000 in the spring. Both were terrific showings for a runner who Elizondo said fought through early career injuries.
Erika Barr (Simi Valley High), Rianna Goins (a third of the triplets from Anaheim Hills running for UCD), Nicole Lane (El Molina High of Santa Rosa), Clara MacLeod (Albany High) and Hannah Kirkegaard (Ventura High) all drew praise from their coach for spring-to-summer improvements and previous accomplishments.
For the Aggie men’s cross country squad, Halsted is a team captain who is expected to lead a pack of promising range rovers. Halsted is a mechanical engineering major, who, thanks to his 4.0 grade-point average, has been racking up academic honors during the offseason.
“We’re pretty flush on the men’s side,” reported Elizondo, who adds that Halsted and two-time captain Hough before him have been the faces of the cross country program at Davis.
Hough is UCD’s only graduated senior.
“We’re going to have eight guys fighting for four spots,” the coach continued. “A group like this is great to have: Competition is great.”
On runner who seems to be emerging from the pack is San Juan Capistrano product Brandon Pugh. After a 14:26 in a spring 5,000-meter race, Elizondo sees his 5-foot-10 junior as “hungry; a guy who is really going to put himself out there. A workhorse, he’s not the prettiest runner, but he finds a way every single time.”
Jordon Rushing and Nick Ratto also figure to put up good times.
Competition starts Saturday with the Aggie Open on the Putah Creek Preserve course. A casual meet that welcomes all comers, the men’s and women’s races are shortened and considered an important workout without being grueling so early in the season. Sacramento State and UCD are the schools involved.
The rest of the Aggie slate includes the Stanford Invitational (Sept. 27), NCAA Pre-Nationals (Oct. 18) and the Big West Conference Championships, at UC Riverside Nov. 1.
UCD hosts the Doc Adams Open (Nov. 8) before heading to the NCAA West Regionals (Stanford, Nov. 14).
Notes: Elizondo — a 1998 UCLA grad who ran on three Pac-10 title-winning track teams, said it’s too early to know where any teams fit in the pecking order of the Big West, but added “it’s a long time before school starts (Sept. 29), so we can do a lot of work physically and psychologically (before class work piles up).” … Kim Conley, a 2012 Olympian, is — among others — under the private tutelage of Wartenburg. … Welcome home, Samantha Kearney. She’s another ex-Aggie runner, who joins Elizondo’s staff. Kearney was a record-setting steeplechaser (Class of 2012). Most recently she coached at Hillsdale College (Michigan) after a season as a UCD graduate assistant.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-320-4456.