Racing against some of the best competitors in the nation, the Aggies placed an impressive sixth place at the Western Regional Championships.
And on Nov. 24, seniors Kim Conley and Kaitlin Gregg will be able to race the rest of the best as they compete at the NCAA National Championships in Terre Haute, Ind.
“Today was a great effort,” said head coach Drew Wartenburg. “It was right around where we wanted to be. We talked about being fifth, but obviously that was a best-case scenario.… We were 17th last year and moving up 11 spots from one year to the next in the region meet is a large jump and gives us a lot of optimism for the future.“
The Aggies have only two seniors on the roster, and their last season is leaving big marks on the program. Conley and Gregg both earned all-West Region honors in virtue of their 12th and 16th place finishes. They are the only Aggies to ever garner such awards, as well as the first to qualify for the national championships.
“I was pretty nervous going into the race, both for myself and for the team,” Gregg said. “I knew that today could potentially be my last cross country race in an Aggie uniform. My goal was to finish in the top 25, leave everything out on the course and hopefully, that would be enough to qualify. Thankfully, it was.“
With 1k remaining, Gregg was sitting in 21st, knowing she had to move up to have a chance to qualify.
“I was battling between Irine Lagat (of Arizona) and Tara Erdmann (of Loyola Marymount) for the fourth individual spot,” she said. “I was the fourth individual with 800 to go, then got passed by Erdmann and was then the fifth individual. With about 600 to go, I passed Lagat and never looked back.“
Still recovering from an Iliotibial band injury, Conley ran a conservative first part of the race before moving up to Gregg in the middle miles.
“This is two meets in a row where we’ve really gone in not knowing necessarily what she could do on the day,” Wartenburg said. “Kimmy only warmed up for like six minutes this morning. She ran a patient race, moved up calmly, found Kaitlin and ended up passing her by a few spots.“
The team’s sixth-place finish, which was the best among Big West Conference teams, is also by far the best in school history.
Of the five teams ahead of UC Davis, only one didn’t have a national ranking. And a few behind the Aggies, including UC Riverside, received votes in the national poll.
“I am so proud of how far we have come in the past year,” Conley said. “We have definitely stepped up our presence in the region, and that momentum will only continue to grow in the years to come.“
ALEX WOLF-ROOT can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.