USC begins season at UCI Invitational
After a disappointing 10th-place finish at the Pac-10 championships last season, the USC womenâs cross-country team looks to bounce back in 2011.
The UC Irvine Invitational in Irvine, Calif., which begins Saturday, will provide the Women of Troy an early season test, especially after the loss of recent graduates Christine Cortez and Zsofia Erdelyi.
â[Erdelyi] was very special, an All-American, and she holds many records for the university,â USC coach Tom Walsh said. âSheâs definitely the best distance runner weâve ever had. And Christineâs determination and discipline rubbed off on everyone else on the team. Weâre basically starting from scratch now.â
Junior Shelby Buckley and freshman Erica Capellino are expected to help keep USC afloat.
Buckley, a transfer from UCLA, was forced to sit out the 2010 season but posted excellent times while running unattached in three races last year. Capellino also took fifth place at the Iolani Cross Country Invitational for Palos Verdes High School at the CIF State Championships in 2010 with a time of 18:04.
With the team comprised mostly of walk-ons and new members, the rest of the spots on the team have yet to be decided. USC boasts five other talented walk-on freshmen in addition to Capellino. All but Capellino will race this weekend in Irvine.
Capellino is holding off on her season debut until next weekâs race at San Diego State.
âWe have six fabulous freshmen this season, and weâre really excited about that group and their prospects for the future,â Walsh said. âTheyâve had a good solid summer of training and should be ready for this seasonâs races. The third to seventh ranked spots are up for grabs. There are so many people with similar stats.â
Much like last year, USCâs hopes for a strong season lie in whether the runners can stay healthy. Several athletes have been battling injuries, which might have impacted their summer training. Senior Leah Gaeta will redshirt this season.
A competitive atmosphere withÂ many underclassmen will allow runners to quickly distinguish themselves, but Walsh knows 2011 will be a building year for USC.
âWeâre so young, and sometimes freshmen donât always run to their best ability right away,â Walsh said. âHopefully theyâll be able to race as fast as theyâre training.â
USC faces steep competition with this yearâs Pac-12 lineup, as annual powerhouses Oregon and Stanford boast rosters full of impressive contenders. USCâs lack of cross-country scholarships hinders its ability to actively recruit runners, but this is not an insurmountable challenge, according to Walsh, who remains optimistic about the Women of Troyâs chances of placing higher than last yearâs disappointing finish at the Pac-10 championships.
The cross-country season begins in Irvine this weekend and continues through four more California cities before the Pac-12 championships in Tempe, Ariz., on Oct. 29.
âThis season will definitely be a growing process,â Walsh said.