Going into this weekend, the UC Davis women’s cross country team was one of the best teams no one knew about.
Now, people know.
Again led by seniors Kim Conley and Kaitlin Gregg, the Aggies posted an impressive 12th place finish in the 39-team “White” race at the NCAA Pre-Nationals in Terre Haute, Ind.
Coming into the weekend, the Aggies were ranked a modest 10th in the Western Region, behind such teams as Arizona and UC Riverside. Arizona ran in the separate “Blue” race, but with a slower team time than the Aggies. UC Riverside raced the Aggies, finishing two places back.
“I think we should move up to be ranked fifth in the region now,” Conley said.
As is becoming customary, Conley had a stellar performance on a big stage, taking 25th individually in 20:58.5. Last time out, the captain placed third at the Stanford Invite – 30 seconds back of conference rival Laura Olvera of UC Irvine.
This time, Olvera finished 26th.
“She passed me at like 4 kilometers,” Conley said. “When she went by I was like ‘No, I can’t let that happen.‘ I was hanging on for dear life and I was hurting at that point in the race because I went out a little fast. With 400 meters to go I was kicking so hard and just barely got her on the line.“
Dominant as she was, Conley wasn’t the only Aggie mixing it up in the front. Gregg was only 7.2 seconds back of Conley, finishing in 32nd place and third among Big West runners.
“Kaitlin Gregg ran a really good race,” Conley said. “We ran the first 2 kilometers together, then I started to make a move but she hung on, so it was pretty sweet.“
“I was really glad to be able to work with Kimmy for the first 2 kilos,” Gregg said. “It was incredibly crowded, so it was helpful to have a teammate.“
In addition to Conley and Gregg upfront, Caitlin Fitzgerald ran her best race of the season, finishing 155th to be the fifth and final scorer for the Aggies.
“It was good,” Conley said. “Fitzgerald stepped it up when we needed her to. She came up and filled that number five spot.”
As good as the performances were, the best is yet to come.
“As well as we ran, there continues to be room for improvement,” head coach Drew Wartenburg said.
Part of that improvement will likely come from junior Alison Stoakley, who placed 46th in the open race held later in the day.
“Her time would have put her sixth on the team,” Wartenburg said. “Getting her back there for conference and regions makes us stronger.“
In addition to the Pre-Nationals, some of the younger Aggies – led by freshman Chelsea Mumby – gained some experience at the Santa Clara Bronco Invitational, finishing 17th.
The Aggies will take a week off of competition before heading to the Big West Championships, where they may be running with targets on their backs.
“I think they’re gonna look at us as a potential conference favorite,” Wartenburg said. “The women’s team as a group is ready to take on some of those expectations. They’ve earned it.“
ALEX WOLF-ROOT can be reached at email@example.com.