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Friday, October 22, 2021

Aggies to use mix of experience, talent to cross the finish line

The Aggies got their first ever Big West Cross Country championship last year in women’s individual champion Sarah Sumpter.

This season, UC Davis is looking to increase that total.

“Our goal this year is to win a Big West team title,” head coach Drew Wartenburg said. “After that, we’d like to qualify for regionals and possibly the national tournament.”

The road to a conference title is not easy. But Wartenburg feels if there is a team prepared to capture the award, it’s this one.

“The conference we play is one of the deepest in the nation,” Wartenburg said. “This team has the potential to win a league title, however. If we stay healthy and make the most of our opportunities, I think we can do it.”

UC Davis’ first meet of the year was on Sept. 4 in Davis. Both the men and women topped rival Sacramento State in the early season match.

Jonathan Peterson, Jonathan Sees and Calvin Thigpen finished one-two-three for the Aggies on the 5900 m course. On the women’s side, Sarah Sumpter and Samantha Kearney finished second and fourth in the 4000 m course, respectively.

The Aggies’ second meet was the Hornet Jamboree at Sacramento State. It was another successful afternoon for UC Davis as the men finished first and the women finished second. Peterson and Thigpen went one-two for the men in the four mile while Krista Drescheler came in first for the women in the five kilometer.

While winning the races was important to Wartenburg, the improvement he saw at the meets was more important.

“We weren’t focused so much on the results as just getting our legs under us,” Wartenburg said. “I saw a lot of good things in the first two races. I just really wanted to get us ready for the next phase. We have bigger races and more competitive fields ahead of us.”

Wartenburg believes it’s the blend of experience and talent that will continue the Aggies’ success.

“We got a good group of veterans and talented freshman,” he said. “Once we meet in the middle I think we can be very successful.”

Wartenburg believes the talented freshman will be a big factor if UC Davis wishes to capture a team conference title. The upperclassmen, however, can bring something entirely different.

“One of our biggest mistakes in the past was we would race too hard early in the season and we’d be burnt out come postseason,” Wartenburg said. “Our experienced players know this and know how to pace themselves.”

Peaking too early, Wartenburg said, has plagued the Aggies in the past. He believes a team that paces itself is in good shape for a conference title.

“Part of pacing is up to the competition level we play,” he said. “We have to be judicious in not pushing ourselves too hard too early. Over-racing and peaking too early can really hurt us.”

Its schedule, Wartenburg said, is what will keep UC Davis in good shape throughout the year. The Aggies third event of the year is this weekend: the competitive Stanford Invitational in Palo Atlo, Calif. UC Davis will have three weeks off before its fourth tournament of the year at the Bronco Invitational in Santa Clara, Calif. The Big West Championships are two weeks after that. Wartenburg believes the ample time off is what gives UC Davis its best chance at a Big West team title.

In terms of talent, Wartenburg believes this squad might be the most gifted he’s coached in his career.

“In my brief tenure, this is the most talented team I’ve ever coached,” he said. “I don’t think it’s safe to say this is the best team ever at UC Davis because there were some good teams in the Division II days. Part of how good a team is depends on the 12 inches on top of your neck.

“This team believes in itself, more so than previous teams. We have goals scary enough and realistic enough. That way we’re not reaching for impossible things and achieving something that’s below our potential. So far the team has been really engaged and getting better each and every day.”

JASON ALPERT can be reached at sports@theaggie.org.

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