It turned out to be a tale of two seasons for Sacramento State’s men’s and women’s cross country teams, which ended their season on different notes.
A 14th place finish by the women’s team out of 34 qualifying schools at the NCAA Division I West Regional on Nov. 14 at Stanford was a good sendoff for a good season, according to coach Joe Eby.
“It was a pretty good year,” Eby said of the women’s team. “Ultimately, we ran well at the biggest meet at the end of the year.”
But for most of the men’s team, the season ended two weeks earlier, on Nov. 1 at the Big Sky Conference Cross Country Championships. There, in Grand Forks, North Dakota, the team posted an 11th place finish out of 12 conference teams.
“It wasn’t the season I was hoping for,” Eby said of the men’s team. “We had a few guys get banged up and injured, and we had some guys that were redshirting that really could have helped us quite a bit.”
Eby gave particular praise to Jacob Huston, the leader on the men’s side, and Chloe Berlioux on the women’s side, who he said displayed a great deal of growth.
Berlioux had a big year, setting several personal records and leading her team in every race she competed in up until the West Regional.
“I think I took some stuff that I learned last track season about being able to stay up with the front pack and still have a strong finish into my cross country season,” Berlioux said. “Every year is a learning experience, and every year you learn something new about yourself and your teammates.” Eby also praised Amanda Garcia. At the West Regional, Garcia—who had been injured much of the past year and walked into Eby’s office on crutches to start the 2014 season—led the Hornets with a time of 21:12.4, good for 35th among 230 racers.
Huston was the only runner from the men’s team to extend his season to the regional race, running without teammates by his side.
“It really sucked not having my team by my side racing, because it was really hard looking for jerseys and seeing nothing but other teams,” Huston said.
Huston finished the 10K with a time of 31:22.5, taking 102nd place out of 192 runners. Earlier in the year, he earned a first place finish at the Sept. 20 Mustang Challenge in Santa Clarita, posting a time of 25:46.0 in the 8K.
The low point of the season for both teams came at an unfortunate time and place: Nov. 1 at the Big Sky Conference Championships in North Dakota, where the women’s team finished ninth and the men finished 11th among 12 teams.
Berlioux was able to salvage a positive finish for the team as she placed third overall among 89 runners in the conference finals, running the 5K in 17:18.8.
“It really sucked not having my team by my side racing, because it was really hard looking for jerseys and seeing nothing but other teams.”Jacob Huston, Men’s team qualifier
While Eby attributed the women’s collective team struggles in North Dakota to an off day, the men’s performance was a key factor in his decision not to send the men back to Stanford for the NCAA West Regional. “It needs to be earned,”
Eby said. “It’s not just a deal where we’re going to go spend a ton of the school’s money and the athletic department’s budget on a team that’s not prepared to run at that level yet. Our guys are just really young, and they were not quite ready to do that.”
Eby added it was not a decision he made lightly, but he believes the move will help set a higher standard for next season.
The women’s season had some ups and downs as well, as runners like Garcia struggled with injury problems.
“On the girl’s side, the [challenge] was just trying to get everybody to fire at the same time,” Eby said. “We never quite figured out that formula to get it just right.”
But both Eby and Berlioux were happy with the season as a whole.
“There were a few bumps in the road here and there, but overall I think it was a pretty good season,” Berlioux said.
With most of Sac State’s cross country athletes running on the track and field team, the offseason will be short as the runners gear up for the first track meet of 2015 in late January.
Berlioux, who runs middle distance races for track, said she was excited to start building up her speed for the track season.
“The strength that I gain in cross country is always a bonus when moving into the indoor and outdoor [track] seasons,” Berlioux said.
Huston, who runs the 1,500 meter and 800 meter events for track, said he felt the work put in during the cross country season could be advantageous in the 1,500. As for cross country, Huston said the men’s team has room for improvement in the future.
“I’m kind of ready for next cross season, even though there’s track in the way,” Huston said. “We can do a hell of a lot better.”