This year’s NCAA Cross Country West Regional in Colfax, Washington, ended with a somewhat familiar feeling for both University of Portland teams. The men’s team took home the team title on Friday while the women’s team took home sixth, just missing out on qualifying for the NCAA Cross Country Championships as a team.
It was the second-highest finish ever for the women’s team and the third victory in a row for the men.
Despite missing out on the team bid, head coach Ian Solof felt the women’s team raced almost up to their potential.
“They did a great job,” Solof said. “I was really happy with how they raced. We were hoping maybe at the best that we could squeak into the top five and we were really close to that.”
Even though they felt the top five was within their reach, Solof and company weren’t too concerned with what place they finished in. Their focus always has been and always will be on the process. Still, he was impressed to see the team finish as high as they did, especially after losing some of their top runners from last year.
“I feel they have probably overachieved as it is by getting sixth place,” Solof said. “There’s no disappointment with that.”
Although they didn’t qualify as a team, redshirt sophomore Anna Pataki did qualify with a ninth-place finish in the 6,000-meter run. Solof said Pataki’s finish was something he bets most people didn’t expect.
“This is by far her best race of the season,” Solof said. “She did such a great job. I don’t think anybody would have predicted that she was going to be in the top 10 today (Friday). But she ran a perfect race and that’s a huge accomplishment to make the national meet.”
Even though Pataki was the only runner that qualified, Solof was impressed with the overall performance of this year’s squad. Junior Jasmine Fehr was the only returning runner out of seven for the Pilots, finishing 56th after a finishing 106th in 2018. Everyone else, Solof said, ran very well considering their experience and skill level. With only one senior — Maddie Lyons — in the top seven, Solof is optimistic about the future.
“I think there’s a lot of positive signs for the future and for next year,” Solof said. “We have a lot of people who got a lot of good experience this year that’s going to help them next year...I just felt great about the group and how they worked together and the attitude they had and the training that they committed to.”
The men’s team was a little different, with an explicit goal of defending their title in Colfax on Friday. Head coach Rob Conner knew that doing so in a tough region featuring juggernauts like Stanford and Washington would not come easy.
“The goal was to win, although I didn’t think there was any guarantee by any means,” Conner said. “The goal was to try and win, execute the race plan and see what that would get us.”
What it got them was a neck and neck race for first between them and Stanford. Luckily, they had some strong performances that helped them take the win. Senior Emmanuel Roudolf-Levisse was the top finisher for the men, almost claiming an individual title with a second-place finish in the 10,000 meter. All five scorers for the Pilots earned All-West Region honors with top 25 finishes.
“From the gun, the guys were up in the lead pack and ran confident and aggressive,” Conner said. “It was really a thing of beauty.”
Conner said that running aggressively was a key part of their strategy, trying to break out in front of the pack and avoiding running through traffic. It was almost perfect, except for when redshirt senior Caleb Webb got caught up in the traffic and fell down as a result. Webb finished 43rd.
“Really everything went almost perfectly except for the fact that Caleb (Webb) was tripped and fell down and lost his shoe, so he had to stop and put his shoe back on,” Conner said. “I think he could’ve been right with the other guys. That’s our only blemish on today (Friday). It was nearly perfect.”
Despite the tumble, Portland still came away champs of the West. Now, they’ll look to take that momentum with them to Terre Haute, Indiana, on Nov. 23 for Nationals. The past two years have seen the Pilots finish in the top three, but Conner admitted that will be difficult with the stiff competition they’ll face. Still, he believes in the skill of this group.
“It’s going to be difficult,” Conner said. “If we’re talking about two years ago or one year ago, we might be the No. 3 team in the nation, but there’s a couple of additional teams that are better … We’re going to be battling it out.”
Kyle Garcia is the Sports editor for The Beacon. He can be reached at email@example.com.