The Aggies first off-race could have come at a better time.
Expected to contend for the Big West Conference title, UC Davis left UC Riverside’s Agricultural Operations Course with a taste of disappointment.
Despite a key injury and an early spill, the Aggies still managed a third-place finish.
For the first time in her career, senior Kaitlin Gregg was the top UC Davis finisher, crossing the line in the 6k in 20:31.5. Directly behind Gregg was senior captain Kim Conley. The duo placed sixth and seventh, respectively, good enough to earn All-Big West honors.
Next for the Aggies was sophomore Caitlin Fitzgerald.
Or maybe it was freshman Krista Drechsler.
Both stopped the clock at exactly 21:22.3, earning a rare tie for 20th place.
Junior Alison Stoakley, who didn’t even compete on the top-seven squad at the NCAA Pre-Nationals two weeks ago, was fifth for the team in 27th. Freshmen Abbey Gallher (31th) and Kristin Arkin (32nd) were the displacers.
“It wasn’t the outcome we were hoping for,” said Conley, “but we have two weeks to regroup and come back smarter and stronger for regionals. The season definitely is not over yet.”
For the first time since sophomore year, Conley – who was expected to contend for the conference title – did not lead the Aggies. This was partly due to the continuing emergence of Gregg, an overshadowed power on the team, but there was more.
“She was coming off an [Iliotibial] band injury,” said head coach Drew Wartenburg. “Going in we weren’t sure she’d be able to toe the line, and for her to game up as she did was huge.”
Gregg and Conley made sure they were in the front pack working together as the race unfolded and spread out. Though they were able to score some much-needed low points for the Aggies, they weren’t quite deep enough on the day to take the win.
“We got really separated and folks got gapped off at three, four and five,” said Wartenburg. “With strong teams like UCI and UCR that have people up front as well as depth, we didn’t show our depth today and it came back to bite us.”
Drechsler, who fell in the first 400 meters, was joined in her usual 3-4 spot by Fitzgerald, who had by far her best race in Aggie uniform.
“I didn’t have time to concentrate on my own suffering because I was preoccupied with helping out the teammates who were having trouble,” said Fitzgerald. “Krista fell and rolled maybe 400 meters into the race, and that took things to a whole new level. We needed some serious stepping up to fill that hole.”
Another athlete who had a season-best performance was Stoakley, as she raced her way to finish as a scorer for only the second time in her Aggie career.
“The team is still young,” said Wartenburg, “so today was a huge learning experience and hopefully we come out at regionals and are a bit more relaxed and let things come to us instead of forcing it.”
Though their regional rankings will definitely take a plunge after this weekend, the Aggies are still looking to turn heads when they compete at the Western Regionals in two weeks at Stanford.
“Conference is behind us now,” said Fitzgerald. “No use in crying over spilled milk. Two weeks of solid training and we’re back at Stanford.”
ALEX WOLF-ROOT can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.