Fresh off an impressive, freshman-led showing at Cal State Fullerton, the USC women’s cross country team returns to action Saturday at the UC Irvine Invitational 5K with reason to expect success.
Team captain senior Bridget Helgerso, will return to run for the Women of Troy, just one of several veteran runners who did not race at Fullerton competing for the first time this season. USC coach Tom Walsh believes the return of more experienced runners will boost the Women of Troy’s performance.
“We’re going to see where our veterans are at right now,” Walsh said. “We had a great grouping in terms of our one through five runners last Saturday. We’re hoping for the same this Saturday but at a higher level and with faster times.”
There are still a few key absences, however. Standout junior Szofia Erdelyi will not race on Saturday because of plantar fasciitis (a painful inflammation on the sole of the foot) listed as the cause. Expected top-five runner Shea Wickland will also miss the Irvine 5K to rest an injured knee. Additionally, freshman Christy Ambrosini, who last week finished as USC’s top runner at Fullerton, will not race as the result of back and hip injuries.
“We are off to a bit of a slow start because of some freak injuries,” Walsh said. “But I’m confident that both Szofia and Shea will join us at the Stanford invite in a couple weeks, unless anything unexpected comes up.”
Injuries or no injuries, Irvine should be a tough test for the Women of Troy. Several strong competitors will toe the line alongside USC on Saturday, including host UC Irvine as well as strongholds like UC San Diego, Pepperdine, Fresno State and Cal State Northridge.
“This will definitely be an upgrade in competition,” Walsh said. “Last week was a good start for us, but this week will certainly be a notch up from that. It’ll be an indicator of where our girls are at this year, especially the ones who haven’t raced yet.”
Irvine’s tougher competition should provide a stepping stone for USC, who plan to run what could be their toughest meet in two weeks at Stanford. However, as Walsh has noted in the past, USC is used to facing tough foes in the Pac-10. As a result, the mood remains optimistic for the Women of Troy.
“I’m greatly looking forward to seeing how we match up against some of the better schools.” Walsh said. “It can only make us stronger.”