A year after finishing sixth at the Big West Conference Championships as an unknown team, the Aggies proved that they belonged on Saturday.
UC Davis posted an impressive second-place finish behind six-time conference champion Cal Poly.
The battle for second place was extremely close, as the Aggies scored 71 points while UC Riverside and UC Santa Barbara came in with 72 and 79, respectively. Cal Poly won with a dominating 19.
“It’s obviously a giant step forward from our sixth place finish last season,” said senior captain K.C. Cody. “We’re very pleased with the results, but we were only seven points out of fourth, so UCSB and UCR are still very dangerous.”
Cody led the Aggies by finishing eighth in the 8K race in 24:39.9, earning All-Big West honors. Finishing second for UC Davis for the second time in as many races was sophomore Russ Pfaff, who was directly followed by junior Thomas Dileo.
Pfaff and Dileo just missed making the all-conference team by placing 12th and 13th, respectively.
Senior Patrick Parsel and sophomore Calvin Thigpen rounded out the scorers in finishing 19th and 21st. Junior Scott Himmelberger (34th) and sophomore Andy Peabody (35th) were the displacers.
“Russ got off to a shaky start this season,” said head coach Drew Wartenburg. “Being sick for a solid week, that sort of had a ripple effect. He didn’t race until Stanford, so we’ve been sort of waiting for him to come around into form. Up until now, when guys have had off moments no one stepped in and sort of said, ‘I’m picking up the slack.’ Today we did.”
The combination of this and an older, more experienced team led to a completely different performance than last year.
“For comparison’s sake,” Cody said, “our first team finisher last year was 21st in the conference. This year, 21st place went to our fifth man.
“In a smaller race like that, every spot counts. Only beating UCR by two points highlights how important it is for everyone to be hitting on all cylinders at this stage in the season. If anyone had been out-kicked or hadn’t caught other runners in the last 400m, we’d be talking about bronze.”
If Dileo did not run the race he did, they certainly would be talking about bronze. One of the many runners he passed in the second half of the race was from UC Riverside, whom he beat by less than three seconds. That one place would have been the difference between second and third.
Starting his push shortly after the third mile, Thigpen had a much-needed strong performance.
“At that point I was hurting really bad,” Thigpen said, “but I knew that I needed to keep passing people and score well for the team. I was about 25th to 30th, and so I just focused on picking guys off one at a time.
“Coming up to 600 meters to go, I had a Long Beach, Irvine, and Cal Poly guy in front of me. I blasted past the Irvine and Long Beach guys, and coming off the turn with about 200 meters to go I caught the Cal Poly guy.”
Though having to run a couple of large hills took a lot out of most runners, Thigpen’s intense summer hill training gave him a much-needed edge.
“I tried to really work the downhill and I knew that I could deal with the uphill, thanks to [training at] Annadel [State Park],” he said.
Next the Aggies head to Stanford for the NCAA West Regionals, where they will take a shot at advancing to the national championships. And though they are pleased with their performance, they are focused on the future.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” said Cody. “We’re going to have to race ourselves stupid at regionals if we’re going to have any hope of moving on to nationals.”
ALEX WOLF-ROOT can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.