SAN MARCOS — The California State University-San Marcos men’s and women’s cross country teams will toe the line this Saturday in Billings, Montana for a chance to qualify for the NCAA Division II Cross Country National Championship on Dec. 1 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The men’s team is currently ranked No. 22 in just its second year competing at the Division II-level, entering the Top 25 for the first time in program history following a second-place performance at the California Collegiate Athletic Association Championship meet Nov. 3 in San Bernardino.
Teams that finish in the top three slots at Regionals will earn a spot at Nationals, along with ten at-large teams chosen by a complex set of criteria.
The CSUSM women’s team qualified for the National Championship in 2017, its first eligible year, finishing eighth out of 32 teams. After losing head coach Steve Scott last season to retirement and five of its top-eight runners to graduation, many did not hold huge expectations this season.
But Coach Torrey Olson, who coaches both teams, said the Cougars have a shot at making a return to the big stage.
“I think both teams, men and women, have a real chance to go and make it to NCAAs,” Olson said. “It’s going to take a good effort from everybody and maybe a little bit of luck, but both teams have a really good chance.”
— CSUSM Athletics (@CSUSMcougars) November 3, 2018
Taking over the helm in mid-July, Olson had big shoes to fill. Scott was a beloved and long-tenured coach of both the men’s and women’s squads at CSUSM, but also ran a mile in three minutes and 47 seconds in 1982, an American record Scott held for 35 years. Since his running career began, Scott has run a sub-four minute mile 137 times.
Olson said that Scott’s departure hit the women’s team particularly hard at first, but he believes that both teams have adjusted well overall. Olson and Scott share a similar coaching ethos consisting of moderation in training with an emphasis on the health of each runner. Running athletes into the ground and onto the injury table is not in his playbook, said Olson.
“I’m not a yeller,” Olson said. “All I’m asking is that you try your best and I’m going to accept the result. I’m never putting pressure on saying, ‘This result needs to happen,’ so I feel like in that sense it hasn’t been the harshest transition.”
Olson added that both teams emphasize a series of difficult workouts where student-athletes can measure their progress and properly prepare for competition.
For the men, an example was a three-mile race pace effort, a short period of rest, followed by two more miles, another short period of rest and another mile, sprinting the final 400 meters. For those doing the math, that’s about 6.2 miles (10K), or the distance the men will race at Regionals.
Olson said the team motto is to race and compete hard at the outset, rather than focusing on tactics.
Both the men and the women train daily at 7 a.m. before classes start. Olson said that he has attempted to simulate cross country course conditions by holding workouts at Walnut Grove Park in San Marcos which can turn any runner into an apt hill runner. Olson added that the cross country courses are much flatter than anything they will encounter on the city’s roads.
In order to prepare for the cold weather and conditions in Billings, Olson has instructed his runners to dress warm until right before the starting gun and realize that everyone is facing the same conditions.
The weather forecast for race day in Billings is cold and sunny with a high of 28 degrees.