Aggies face stacked field at West Region preview

Freshman Julia Lemak has posted a pair of top-10 finishes in her first two races at the Division I level. (Photo by Wayne Tilcock/Davis Enterprise)
Sept. 30, 2016

THIS WEEK…
UC Davis at Capital Cross Challenge
Hosted by Sacramento State
Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016
Sacramento, Calif.
Haggin Oaks Golf Complex
Men's 8K: 9:25 a.m.
Women's 6K: 10:05 a.m.
Participating Schools (Division I only): Arizona, Arizona State, Boise State, BYU, Cal Poly, CSU Bakersfield, Cal State Fullerton, CSUN, California, Eastern Washington, Fresno State, Gonzaga, Hawaii, Idaho, Idaho State, Long Beach State, Loyola Marymount, Mississippi, Montana, Montana State, North Dakota, Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State, Pacific, Pepperdine, Portland, Portland State, Richmond, Sacramento State, San Diego, San Diego State, San Francisco, San Jose State, Santa Clara, Seattle, Southern Utah, Saint Mary's, Stanford, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara, UCLA, USC, Utah, Washington, Washington State, Weber State.

Meet Information: Capital Cross Challenge
USTFCCCA National/Regional Rankings (as of Sept. 26): Rankings Central

UC Davis "Distance Diaries" (Women) | UC Davis "Cross Country Chronicles" (Men)

DAVIS, Calif. -- Fresh off a two-week break since recording a pair of third-place finishes in Oregon, the UC Davis men's and women's cross country teams will not have to travel far for their next competition, staying local to compete at the 2016 Capital Cross Challenge hosted by Sacramento State on Saturday morning (Oct. 1).

The race will serve as a preview for this year's NCAA West Regional competition in November and will be held at the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex in Sacramento, with the men's 8K beginning at 9:25 a.m., followed by the women's 6K race at 10:05 a.m.

Facing their stiffest test of the year thus far, the Aggies will be going up against a field that will include a total of 50 men's and women's programs -- a number of which are nationally ranked according to the latest U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association's poll released on Sept. 26.

On the men's side, Saturday's race will feature four of the top 10 teams in the nation -- including top-ranked Northern Arizona -- while 10 programs are ranked among the top 30, with another receiving votes. On the women's side, No. 4 Oregon is the highest-ranked participant, leading a group of nine nationally ranked programs and three more receiving votes.

"We are excited to be able to have a high-level, mid-season competition close to home," Assistant Coach Devin Elizondo said. "As an institution, we will continue to compete and support these events and bring our best performances in front of our home fans. It is very special for some of our home-grown talents to compete at this level so close to friends and family who reside in Yolo and Sacramento counties."

All 15 schools ranked among the USTFCCCA West Region's best on both the men's and women's side are scheduled to be in attendance, including the UC Davis women's team, which enters the race at No. 13 in the region -- one of three Big West Conference schools among the top 15 along with Cal Poly (No. 9) and UC Santa Barbara (No. 15).

The Aggies will send a full contingent for both races this weekend, looking to build off a successful showing at the Bill Dellinger Invitational as senior Hannah Kirkegaard finished fifth, and sophomore Jordy Ceja ninth, to give UC Davis a pair of top-10 finishes.

"Traveling to Eugene means racing one of the top distance running programs in the country," Elizondo said. "We wanted to work in the lead packs and push the envelope of our early season training. I thought we raced with poise and a controlled aggressiveness that it takes to be successful at distances of 5000m and 8000m.

"We needed to match the intensity of teams like Oregon, Oregon State, and Portland, yet be controlled enough to finish strong late in the races. We were pleased with the execution of race plans and competing with nationally ranked programs. Being in Eugene gave us snap shot of what we need to work on throughout the next several weeks to compete with the West Region teams in November."

Kirkegaard, who has finished among the top five in each of the Aggies' first two races of the season, tied her collegiate 5K cross-country best with her time of 17:35 as three underclassmen joined senior captain Nicole Lane in the scoring group among the top 25, giving the Aggies balance up-and-down their lineup.

"We are excited about the incoming class," Elizondo said. "We knew they would be able to contribute right away, but you never know what kind of work rate will happen over the summer after high school graduation and being away from college athletes. To their credit, each athlete came to Davis healthy and fit. Their fitness has shown with top performances in our line-up. We look forward to building the group for this season and throughout their careers."

Ceja, meanwhile, continued his hot start to the season, following up his 6K win at the Aggie Open with his ninth-place finish in Oregon in a time of 24:55 and shaving nearly 22 seconds off his previous 8K best time of 25:16.9 set on the very course he will run this weekend. Three UC Davis runners were among the top 20 in Springfield as newcomer Salem Bouhassoun made his debut by finishing 14th among the field with a time of 25:24, while junior Oliver Abundez-Dominguez was 16th just four seconds behind that.

"Jordy has been a refreshing bright spot since he arrived to campus last year," Elizondo said. "He highlighted a veteran heavy team in 2015 as he had several strong performances at both 8k and 10k as a true freshman. His temperament is great for this sport and he has gained from the leadership of teammate Austin Goins and has been challenged by the young talent on the team."