XC: Guijarro, Gauchos capture Big West championships

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – The UCSB men swept the top three places at the Big West Cross Country Championship, using the strength of their front pack to hold off the Cal Poly Mustangs. Completing their first title defense in school history, the Gauchos placed all of their runners inside the top-12 and edged Cal Poly 31-36. The UCSB women arguably put together their finest performance in several years, placing second to a red-hot Cal Poly squad. This was the highest finish for the UCSB women since 2010 when they won their last conference title- since then, they have finished third in four consecutive championship meets until today.

The UC Riverside AG/OPs course was dry, packed and primed for a fast day of collegiate racing. Under clear skies, the race contestants were greeted by a sizeable crowd. On top of the usual parents and team personnel, each Big West squad had members of their track and field teams in attendance, all cheering and mingling together in a terrific display of sportsmanship and comraderie.

The UCSB men were led by a trio of seniors in Bryan Guijarro, Anthony Ortolan and Shyan Vaziri. Guijarro won the men’s 8,000m in 24:01. Ortolan placed second in 24:04.07, narrowly holding off Vaziri who finished in 24:04.68 for third.

This was the fifth men’s Big West team title under Head Coach Pete Dolan’s watch, bringing his combined Big West Cross Country title count to 14.

This was the first time in 21 years that a team other than Cal Poly has won back-to-back conference titles.

“Poly had a good team.” said Dolan.

“We met them three times this year and everytime we beat them. It’s tough to beat a team three times in a row. It’s been a learning season for our guys, running at this high of caliber, now with a target on their back. We haven’t been in this position in over 15 years. The credit goes to them- they did their work.”

With five minutes to go before race time, the UCSB nine did their final strides on the flatland by the start boxes. The team came together and joined arms, all eyes fixed on Ortolan. Speaking with a subtle grin on his face, the UCSB senior gave the final instructions to his fellow troops with each man locked on his every word. When he finished, they swiftly broke huddle, pouncing back to the starting line like a high powered offense rushing to the line of scrimmage.

There was no Olé. No fanfare. It was all business for a veteran Gaucho squad.

At the sound of the gun, a pack of Gauchos sprinted to the front, establishing position as they climbed up the hill into the 100 year old orchard.

Showing their intent from the start, six Gauchos found their way into the top-15 with Guijarro and Ortolan an arms length from the leader. A convincing sea of UCSB blue contrasted sharply against the six man contingent from Cal Poly, running side-by-side in their crisp white uniforms.

The Mustangs worked together through the first half of the race, advancing their harriers steadily into position, like chess pieces in 3/8″ spikes.

The race unfolded slowly with no major moves in the opening miles. Each team held position, as if they were waiting for someone to make a move. Three miles into the race the moment came as a trio of UCSB seniors broke the whole thing wide open.

“It felt good. Almost even pace.” said Guijarro.

“I felt someone next to me and when I realized it was Shyan we all just went together.”

Going into the final loop of the orchard, the three had separated from the pack and were now at the front, pulling off what seemed like a tempo workout at the conference championship.

“Bryan and I have run together so much now that we have a good sense of how each other is feeling and how the competition is feeling. I think we could sense the other guys up there were straining a little bit so we put the hammer down on them.” said Ortolan.

“It was in the back, close to the three mile mark. I’ve never been able to hang with Bryan and Anthony so closely but when they started to pull away from the pack, I was there, I just told myself don’t slow down. I just all the sudden found myself running with them and I knew I couldn’t go back now.” said Vaziri.

As the three distanced themselves from the chase pack, the Mustangs were surging to the line together and there was now more white than blue kicking up dust on the 3 meter wide trail. Moving in and out of the top-ten, the UCSB No. 4 and 5 guys were now tapping the well to hold on to the top-fifteen. Despite what was happening at the front, the race was by no means decided.

Finishing a blistering 4-6-7-8 and 11, the Mustangs put together a marvelous effort, a 36 point tally and the lowest runner-up score since 2006. They finished strong, but the question for the Gauchos was a déjà vu of sorts, coming down to their No. 4 and No. 5 men for the second year in a row.

The closers would be Brad Littooy and Adam Avila for the Gauchos. As the two shifted gears for the final sprint, Littooy held on for dear life, breaking the tape in 12th with a 24:41 clip with Avila glued to his hip, crossing the line in 24:43 in 13th.

Working together, Avila and Littooy showed the power of holding on to your teammate and on a day of run and respond tactics, it worked.

“It’s been our goal to come back and win since last year. To be here and actually do it, it’s a huge relief.” said Ortolan.

Similar sentiments echoed by Vaziri.

“Anything less than first place would have been a disappointment so it’s just relieving.” said Vaziri.

“We went out and took what’s ours.”

Though they took home a valuable six combined points for their team, with 800m to go Vaziri made things interesting for Guijarro and Ortolan.

‘”I was fine with Bryan but Shyan made me nervous and scared because he’s Shyan. Everyone knows his kick. I was just thinking, I’m not losing to Shyan in a cross country race!” said a straight faced Ortolan.

On his final kick…

“I was not going to lose to Shyan. I started thinking that I need to pull away now or I’m done. I thought for a second, I might just get third today!” joked Guijarro.

“I’m not as strong a these two guys in cross country.” said Vaziri referencing Ortolan and Guijarro.

“But I have a better kick and I thought about going on them with 800m to go. Then I looked behind me and I saw Cal Poly was really strong back there and I realized it was better not to risk it and take what was mine and not do something dumb.”

“Also, to be fair, I don’t think I was going to get them, if I had enough I would have taken off in the last 50m!” said Vaziri with the final word on yet another memorable team effort for the Gauchos.

Men’s Team Results

UC Santa Barbara 31
Cal Poly 36
UC Davis 107
Long Beach State 109
UC Irvine 132
Cal State Fullerton 152
UC Riverside 168
Cal State Northridge 209

Women’s Team Results

Cal Poly 39
UC Santa Barbara 59
UC Davis 69
UC Riverside 109
Cal State Fullerton 164
Long Beach State 169
Hawaii 186
Cal State Northridge 186
UC Irvine 225
Women’s Recap
The women’s 6,000m race started the day’s action at UC Riverside. A crisp breeze quickly gave way when the morning sun broke free over the Inland Empire. As the runners doubled knotted chip timers into their shoe laces and did their final accelerations, a nervous energy was in the air.

If UCSB senior Tori Tsolis felt the nerves, they were promptly discharged through her powerful strides at the gun. Resembling a 100m specialist, Tsolis threw it down off the line, holding gate position by the time the smoke from the starting gun became visable.

The UCSB women had grown accustomed to racing as a pack, evidenced by their 17, 19 and 20 second group splits throughout the regular season. Today that team awareness paid off in the early stages of the race as the first six runners for UCSB put themselves inside the top-25 at the mile mark, their No. 2-6 runners running within arms length.

At the two mile split, Tsolis was in 11th, 13 seconds out of the lead. At this point in the race Cal Poly had five runners in the top-ten and held a commanding lead over the field. UCSB senior Maxine Goyette was back in 14th while the UCSB No. 3-4-5 runners hovered around 20, moving up ever so slightly.

Then the racing began.

Tsolis made a strong move on the outside perimeter of the orchard, going in at 11th, coming out in seventh.

Goyette moved from 14th to 11th while Kelsey O’Connell closed in on the top-15.

Jenna Hinkle mirrored O’Connell’s every move and Sarah Schreck now held the No. 5 slot with a mile to go.

As if they could sense one another, each Gaucho put the pedal down over the final 800m.

Their move made the difference in the team race as Tsolis moved up into 5th, breaking the tape in a new PR 20:44, blasting her previous best by 58 seconds. Goyette crossed the line in 8th, also with a new PR time of 20:59.

Kelsey O’Connell ran the race of her life, finishing in 21:09 for a nearly 30 second lifetime best.

Jenna Hinkle took the No. 4 slot with yet another lifetime best of 21:11.

The sure handed Schreck closed out the scoring for the Gauchos with a 21:27 effort.

“I knew I had to stick with the top-ten if I was going to finish there. I just had the race of my life.” said Tsolis.

“Coming in with 800m to go, I knew people felt worse than me. I gotta’ bank on people feeling worse than me! I saw two people within kicking distance. I put targets on their back and I got one. Everyone believed in me and I wasn’t sure I believed in myself until mid-way through the race, then I thought- I got this.”

Goyette on her decisive move…

“Before going in, on the back where the S turn and two mile is, I noticed where the second Davis runner was and I kind of made a gesture to Kelsey and Jenna, and I said it’s time to go. So when we got down to the bottom I saw our time and I was 20 seconds ahead of what I thought I would be. I felt good. This Davis girl is right here. I thought we have to go NOW.” said Goyette.

“So I made my move and I kept going. I knew I had to do that for us.”

Coach Dolan’s thoughts on the women’s race…

“Max had the race of her life.” said Dolan

“Tsolis obviously had the race of her life.”

“As a group, this is as good a group as I’ve ever had. We’re the happiest second place team in the country right now. This was our best day of the year by far. They paid their dues. We got served up at Stanford. At Pre-Nationals. That’s why you fly across the country. You take your lumps then you come out of it.”

“These women, their lives are changed now. They reached a goal that was almost unattainable at the start of the year. Davis is strong. They’ve been a dominant program. These women improved from the start of the season and it made all the difference.”

“It’s always a great feeling when the other coaches are reeling and thinking, how did they do that?”

Next Up NCAA Regionals
The Gauchos will send both squads up to Seattle, WA on Friday, November 13th in search of team and individual NCAA qualifying at the NCAA West Regional. Check back with UCSBgauchos.com for a race preview and full recap.