The USC women’s cross country team has spent much of the season trying to recover from the flu and injury.
The week when all of the Women of Troy’s top runners are finally healthy could not have come at a better time.
“From the beginning of August until the end of last week, we had someone sick or hurt every single week,” said USC coach Tom Walsh. “I’m glad it’s behind us now.”
Finally armed with what Walsh believes are its strongest nine runners, USC will host the Pac-10 Conference Championships for the first time since 1999 on Friday at Skylinks Golf Course in Long Beach, Calif. And although USC will face daunting competition, Walsh believes the home-course advantage will benefit the team.
“Since we’re hosting it, we got to put the course together,” he said. “It will be a very flat, very fast course. I think we’ll do really well on it.”
The Pac-10 features four nationally ranked women’s squads: No. 17 Arizona, No. 12 Stanford, No. 8 Oregon and No. 1 Washington. With the incredible quality of competition at the meet, Walsh’s expectations are realistic.
“I want to be really competitive,” he said. “It’s a stretch for us to be in the top five. But if we can be as competitive as possible and beat our rival UCLA and finish somewhere in the middle of the pack, then that would be an outstanding performance by these girls.”
The Women of Troy include a few standouts, like junior Zsofia Erdelyi, as well as a few surprise runners, like junior Dina Kitayama, who used strong October surges to vault into contention for USC’s Pac-10 squad. Walsh said choosing the runners who would fill out the last few roster spots proved to be a difficult decision.
“There were five people competing for the last two spots who I could have realistically chosen,” Walsh said. “I went with my gut and who I think will respond to pressure and run the best on that day.”
Rounding out USC’s team are senior captain Bridget Helgerson, junior Christine Cortez, senior Katherine Ellis, junior Zara Lukens, sophomore Leah Gaeta, and freshmen Kathleen Moloney and Kelly Owen. Walsh said all nine girls have had strong practices in the weeks leading up to Friday’s meet.
“It reminds me of last year,” Walsh said. “This time last year is when we really started to practice well and ended up having a breakout race [at Bakersfield]. We’ve had those types of practices leading up to this meet, so I’m hoping it carries over.”
The Pac-10 men’s and women’s Cross Country Championships will be Friday, with the men running at 3 p.m., and the women at 4 p.m.