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Davis, California

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Running for success


Cross Country and Track Club team wins National Championship race.

Before 2014, the Cross Country and Track Club team at UC Davis was just an idea.  But heading into 2016, the team holds the title for the 2015 National Intercollegiate Running Club Association (NIRCA) XC National Championships.

The idea started back in 2014, with four freshmen that came from different California high schools.  Third-year biochemistry and molecular biology major, Nathan Kwan and third-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior majors, Eric Jones, Blake Zufall and Jon Horvath exchanged contact information through an old running club.  For these four, a running club was not enough.  They took the initiative to create opportunities for others and have watched it prosper in a short amount of time.

“We just wanted to put something together where it’s like, the stuff you did in high school just carries on into college for those who didn’t make the [school] team,” said President Nathan Kwan.

However, the growth did not just happen overnight.

In their first year of existence, about 15 people showed up to practice every day. Although there was a good turn out, the founders were not satisfied.  The club decided to table over the summer and at freshmen orientation, which helped them get 20 to 25 people at practice every day this school year. Summer was also very important in preparation for the 2015 NIRCA meet.

“The best way to prepare for the national meet is to start over summer and train consistently,” Horvath said.

And preparation was key to the team’s success.  With Nationals as the main goal, extensive planning was necessary. The team participated in a week long camp in Mammoth to get some elevation training while also creating memories with teammates, old and new.

On the weekdays, teammates meet up at the Woody Wilson Track around 4 p.m.  They get some stretching in, take a lap around the track, do a couple basic drills and head off campus for their run.

“5 to 8 miles is a typical day,” Horvath said.

If the team has a free weekend, teammates will meet up on either Saturday or Sunday and go for a 10 to 12 mile run in the morning.

The hard work carried over to the races, and the team won the Pacific Region in Belmont, Calif. on Oct. 24 in both the men’s and women’s division.  The men’s team averaged a time of 26:53 in the 8k race, which is about five miles, while the women’s team averaged a time of 24:19 in the 6k race, roughly 3.75 miles.  The women’s team average was a minute and 32 seconds faster than second place finisher, Cal Poly.

With the wins at Regional, the team gained confidence but still held that underdog mentality.  The team continued to stay motivated as they got ready to head off to Lexington, Ky.

On Nov. 12, the runners flew out to Lexington.  The following day, the team started their focus on the race and scoped the course, an equestrian park with rolling hills.

“There was a lot of nervous energy and excitement,” said Vice President Zufall.

The team knew that all the time, energy and effort expended was worth it as they looked forward to competing against the nation’s best, such as Penn State, Michigan and Texas, with over 1,500 runners participating.

Ranked 10 heading into the meet, the men’s team pulled off an upset that shocked everyone.  Kwan led the team running the course in 25:37, a top ten finish.  Adam Cobert, first-year graduate student in the food science department, Clancy McConnell, fourth-year environmental science and management major and Horvath finished within 20 seconds and nine places of one another. McConnell finished 22 with a time of 26:05.  The Aggies finished with a 25:58 average time, good enough for a first place finish in their first time at Nationals.

The women’s team finished in 11th place with a time average time of 24:28.34, which was a positive for the Aggies.  Venus Shabgahi, fourth-year biological sciences major, finished 34th overall for a team best of 23:38.9.

“I didn’t really believe it at first,” said Chris Meyers, a second-year art studio major.

But the first place finish was real as the men’s team took the stage and held up their prize.

“I enjoyed seeing the trophy,” said Kwan, which was his favorite part of Kentucky.

In a short time, the Cross Country and Track Club team has become successful and looks forward to competing in next year’s championship with the ultimate goal of repeating as champs.

While competition is important, the team isn’t just about running. Everyone gets along well; they socialize while stretching and they will go grab a bite to eat after practice, usually at Raja’s Tandoor to fill up after all the calories they burnt off. The club creates an outlet to meet new people, manage responsibilities and create memories that will last these students a lifetime while enjoying the sport they love.

But then again, hoisting up the NIRCA championship trophy on stage and living out a Cinderella story is a nice bonus.

Written by Michael Martinez – sports@theaggie.org


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