The 2011 UC Davis men's cross country team returns for the third installment of "Cross Country Chronicles," giving fans an exclusive look at what makes Aggie! Follow the Aggie men all year long as they defend their Big West Conference championship.

Freshman Trevor Halsted, born and raised in Davis, realizes that growing up in UC Davis' backyard doesn't necessarily mean that things are any easier during the first months of college life.

Trevor Halsted

As a lifelong resident of Davis, I anticipated that the move of a little over a mile from my home to my new dorm room would entail a relatively easy transition to life as a college student. However, after a month in school and two months since reporting to cross country practice, I realize now that the move across town to campus has left me far from my pre-college routine.

Even before classes started, the schedule seemed busy enough. Practice, strength and conditioning, core, visits to the training room, team meetings and various other activities with my new teammates gave me plenty to do without school in session. Then classes started and lectures, discussions, labs, and homework soon occupied the balance of time not spent with the team. However, besides a more hectic schedule and the novelty of large lecture halls, three-hour chemistry labs, and meals at the DC, I am starting to recognize some more fundamental aspects of my transition to college.

One simple but fundamental difference between college and high school that I did not fully appreciate until I got to UC Davis is that the tests are bigger in college. In class, exams are worth a greater percentage of the grade, and in cross country we have fewer races with more teams competing in them. While this may seem unimportant, I think it is an important aspect of the culture at school and on the team because the higher expectations demand a different mindset. With the end of the season fast approaching (and the end of the quarter not long after), it is becoming obvious that a poor showing in a race (or, similarly, a bad test in school) is simply not an option.

Now that I'm more acclimated to the new college lifestyle, with a couple races and the first round of midterms already completed, I'm excited to gear up for the next big test: championship season. Thankfully, I can look up to my older teammates who have already experienced the conference and regional meets, as I've received indispensible advice from them all season. I'm looking forward to toeing the starting line before another big test, knowing that we, as a team, have made all the preparations to ace it.

Senior Axel Stanovsky discusses how, despite differences in age and experience, the men's team has come together as one collective team working towards the same goal: winning.

Axel Stanovsky

As the oldest member of the UC Davis cross country program, I have affectionately earned the nickname "Grampa" from my teammates, and that is exactly what I felt like heading into this year's team camp in Point Reyes. Over half of the members of our roster had never competed in a UC Davis singlet and I found that my nostalgic war stories from past races featured few of my current teammates. As a team we needed to grow up quickly, and I think we did just that at camp, although the paper prom suits and friendship bracelets may have indicated otherwise.

Our first run of the week was, for many of our younger members, the longest of their life. It featured grueling hills, misty forests with muddy turns and, best of all, a pack of Aggies learning to work as a team. As the pace quickened beyond the comfort zones of many, the collective will of the team kept us together, running as one unit. That run set the tone for what would be a great week.

With the help of Dr. Paul Salitsky's team-building exercises, I learned that Nicole Aha, Rocki Lambdin, Doug Fox and I share many characteristics with the most fearsome bird of prey, the owl. Freshman thespian Trevor Ehlenbach told a ghost story so realistic that the next morning Katie Fry claimed to have seen a phantom in the night. Spirited games of mad libs and Catchphrase as well as frequent naps rounded out our free time and helped us all get to know each other on a personal level.

Above all other activities, however, the runs are what united our team. Between doubles on the legendary "Ngugi" trail and pack runs out to Arch rock, it quickly became clear to me that age and racing experience do not do justice to the toughness and maturity of the men of our program. This was most evident when freshman Diego Escobar gutted out more circuits of a tough hill workout than anyone but our three seniors. Clearly an effort like that symbolized that everyone on the team from the oldest to the youngest, knows that their performance this fall is not a function of their experience, but of the work they produce over course of the season.

We have now raced twice, and it hasn't all gone perfectly. Our inexperience has shown, but so have hints of our fitness. It's asking a lot to expect people to produce veteran results in their first season in uniform, but by refusing to accept anything except a professional mindset from even our youngest athletes, I know that we as a team will prevail by practicing, racing, and living like the runners we aspire to be rather than the runners we have been in the past.

Senior Gregor Lloyd-Smith gives insight on the challenges he's faced in his years on the team and how those challenges have turned him into an even better runner and Aggie.

Gregor Lloyd-Smith in action at the Hornet Jamboree on Sept. 10.

Running is a simple sport. Or so they say. All you need is a pair of shoes and some shorts (although there is some debate in both areas). Yet, if running is so simple then why is it that in my three years at UC Davis I have been unable to run for more than a few months in a row, and have yet to be featured on a conference team?

I can provide a laundry list of excuses for the lower leg issues that have crippled many seasons, but for one I hate excuses. The fact remains: running hasn't exactly been kind to me. However, if there is one trait I could say I have picked up through my years at Davis it is that Aggies don't quit. Jon Sees, last year's team captain, once explained to me, "If something is easily obtained then it's probably not worth having." As a result, Sees thrives on climbing the harder ladders in life. This is the attitude we Aggies embody. Running certainly hasn't been easy for me but after the conversation with Sees I realized that is precisely why I love it.

Last year I was the scantily-clad, flag-waving Aggie Spartan running crazy, cheering on the lads as they fought tooth and nail for each point on UC Riverside's course during the Big West Championships. I was also the guy standing in the crowd looking on as my teammates hoisted the conference trophy in October 2010.

This is now my senior year and I have one last chance to help my school. I have no other chance but this one to win a cross country championship. I could look at my history and determine that I don't have the durability to compete at the collegiate level, but I'm an Aggie and I don't quit. So I decided to stay in Davis this summer, give running my best shot and hang out with like-minded teammates. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I've ever made. The summer included camping trips to Bowman Lake in Tahoe and the Marin Headlands which provided team bonding in simply gorgeous settings, shenanigans that were borderline absurd, oh, and good running too. We still have our official camp in Pt. Reyes to go...

With over half the team in Davis this summer we took the motto of `train together, win together'. Now that official report date has come and gone we have added freshmen to the squad, many of whom are already making fun of me and all appear to have the traits of an Aggie. That's what I like to see.

It is no secret as defending champions we have a target on our back as we seek to repeat and make a larger impact on the regional level. I am confident in the training and the bonding we have achieved so far and I'm unbelievably excited for the journey ahead. Strangely enough, after years of heartache, I enjoy this sport more than ever.

Yes, running is simple and training at an elite level is hard. That's why I do it. That's why I'm an Aggie.