For the USC Women’s Cross Country team, Saturday’s Stanford Invitational marked the most important meet of the season thus far. However, the Women of Troy did not quite perform up to the moment.
USC finished 11th in a field of 22 in the 6K race, below the team’s and coach Tom Walsh’s expectations.
“Overall I don’t think it was our best effort,” Walsh admitted. “We just didn’t have a good day. We’re not racing up to the way we’re training.”
The race took place in the middle of a scorching 90-degree day in Palo Alto, making personal-bests hard to come by. Walsh made no excuses, however.
“It wasn’t just hot for [us],” Walsh said. “It was 90 degrees for everybody. We just need to do a better job in the middle of the race [by] being tougher mentally and we’ll be fine.”
One of the positives that emerged from Saturday’s race was the return of junior Zsofia Erdelyi, who missed USC’s first two races with a foot injury. Erdelyi, who qualified for the NCAA Championships last season, picked up where she left off in 2008 by finishing 13th overall despite not racing at 100 percent.
“She still wasn’t happy because she doesn’t like getting beat by runners who she knows she’s better than,” Walsh said of Erdelyi.
The coach also said he was proud of the effort Erdelyi gave despite her injury problems.
“Sometimes when runners aren’t in great shape, they don’t give 100 percent effort because they know they’re not going to have a great result,” Walsh said. “I was very happy that she didn’t give up.”
Other than Erdelyi, however, the rest of the Women of Troy did not match up with the vastly improved competition present at the Stanford Invite. The No. 5 Stanford Cardinal scored a meet-best 24 points, followed by Cal (100 points) and Loyola Marymount (143). Seven other schools followed before USC, which finished with 332 points.
“[The race] was definitely a test to see where we were at,” Walsh said. “We need to get more experienced. That experience sometimes kicks in during the middle of the season, but it would be great for us if it comes at the end, because that’s when we need it the most.”
Rounding out the rest of USC’s top five runners were Mt. San Antonio transfer Christine Cortez, senior captain Bridget Helgerson, and fellow freshmen Kathleen Moloney and Kelly Owen. Walsh also found a silver lining in the performances of his first-year runners.
“I think the freshman are making progress,” Walsh said. “They’re improving and getting better each week. They’ll definitely help us at the end of this season and certainly in future seasons.”
Although the rest of USC’s performance was not outstanding, Walsh is not concerned with how the team races in September.
“We’re not where we want to be yet, but our goal is to peak at the end of the season,” he said of his team. “As a coach, I’m trying to make sure they run their best races at Pac-10 [meets] and regional’s. We still have five or six weeks to go. We have work to do.”