The USC women’s cross country team’s roller coaster season came to a disappointing end at Saturday’s NCAA West Regional Championships in Springfield, Ore.
In a race dominated by Pac-10 heavyweights Washington and Oregon, the Women of Troy could not overcome a slow start, finishing 20th in a field of 25.
“It was very disappointing,” USC coach Tom Walsh said. “We were prepared for what was going to happen. The top teams that were going to qualify were going to go out hard in the first few hundred meters and then slow the race down. They wanted the race to be as slow as possible because NCAA championships are in 9 days and they don’t want to expend as much energy.”
Perennial powerhouse Washington won the 6K race, finishing with 25 points to beat out Oregon, who scored 66 points. Stanford, Arizona, and Arizona State finished third through fifth, respectively, to ensure that the Pac-10 conference held the top five spots at the West Regionals.
USC’s lone chance for a representative at the NCAA Championships, junior Zsofia Erdelyi, started strong but faltered at the end to finish 28th overall, missing the cut to go run at nationals.
“She was playing catch up all year long,” Walsh said of Erdelyi. “But Zsofia realizes that with being sick and injured and being a month or six weeks behind everyone else, it’s hard to make up.”
Walsh was not making excuses for his team as a whole, however.
“We just didn’t get it done,” Walsh said. “It’s not like we didn’t know what to expect. They knew what they had to do. They just didn’t execute the way they were supposed to.”
After Erdelyi came junior Dina Kitayma, senior captain Bridget Helgerson, and freshman Christy Ambrosini, who replaced Christine Cortez because of Cortez’s shin injury. Walsh found some of Saturday’s few positives in the performances of Kitayama and Ambrosini.
“I thought our two newcomers ran very well,” Walsh said. “Dina and Christy both ran very well, especially considering how few collegiate races they’ve run. So we did have a few bright spots, but other than that, it was a rough day for us.”
Rounding out USC’s seven scoring runners were senior Katherine Ellis, freshman Kathleen Moloney, and junior Zara Lukens.
Despite the sudden drop off in performance from the Pac-10 Championships to Saturday’s West regional, Walsh insists the problem was tactical, not physical.
“You don’t run as well as we did at Pac-10’s and all of a sudden get out of shape in less than two weeks,” Walsh said. “I don’t think we over-trained or over-raced them because we ran really well at Pac-10’s as a group. But in this race, everyone except for Zsofia went out 25 to 30 seconds slower than they did at Pac-10’s.
“If you get stuck in the back and the pace is as slow as it was Saturday, then you’re dead,” Walsh said.