It is time for the UC Davis men’s cross country team to begin the defense of its Big West Conference Title.
The Aggies will not have an easy task repeating, however.
The men’s squad will have to find a way to replace graduated runners Calvin Thigpen and Jonathan Sees.
Helping to mitigate those losses will be the return of senior Jonathan Peterson. The Clovis, Calif. native won the 8K race at last year’s Big West Championships and finished 14th at the NCAA Division I Championships last season. He was also named an All-American and Big West Athlete of the Year.
Peterson will hope to improve on his national finish this year, and he is beginning his early season training with a focus on the NCAA Championships.
“We’re doing harder and faster training,” said coach Drew Wartenburg. “[Peterson is] devouring training in a good way, but we’re taking a long-term approach. We want him to race well throughout the season, but we’re focusing on excelling in the postseason.”
Peterson finished first in 6000-meter race when UC Davis kicked off its season by hosting the Aggie Open.
On the women’s side the Aggies will be counting on senior Krista Drechsler. Dreschler was the highest placing Aggie in the 6K at the Big West Championships, finishing 14th.
Racing alongside Dreschler will be junior Sarah Sumpter. The Cloverdale, Calif. native was named Big West Women’s Athlete of the Year as a freshman before sitting out last season.
Sumpter has a great deal of potential, and if she’s able to shake off the rust of a missed season, she could be one of UC Davis’ top performers.
“Having sat out for a year, there are some variables in terms of getting her racing legs and racing head back in the game,” Wartenburg said. “Part of the beauty of Sumpter is that she doesn’t need an outside voice to motivate her – she’s her own harshest critic. We just have to make sure she keeps working hard without overworking.”
With Sumpter and Dreschler both in the lineup, the Aggies hope to present a formidable women’s team.
“[Sumpter and Dreschler] have been training in tandem,” Wartenburg said. “We’d like them to become a really strong one-two punch. We have two really good leaders on the women’s front.”
The duo looked like just that at the Aggie Open when they finished together, tied for first in the 4000-meter race.
While cross country is a sport based on individual performance, the Aggies know that there is also a strong team element.
“We spoke about it as a team this year, and we decided that we need to be self-aware enough to make sure that each individual is accountable,” Wartenburg said. “Outside of the individual, though, we need to make sure we keep pushing each other to improve. We need to remember that we’re racing with, not against teammates.”
By working together as a team the Aggies are hoping to repeat on last season’s success – another Big West Title and postseason appearances.
“We let the team set their own goals and they want to finish strong in the Big West,” Wartenburg said. “Beyond that we want to have individuals and teams to be competing on the regional and national level.”
TREVOR CRAMER can be reached at email@example.com.