Cross-country looks to take step forward

The USC women’s cross-country team experienced an up-and-down season in 2009, and coach Tom Walsh is hoping better luck and a group of new contributors will improve the Women of Troy’s performance on the course.

Born to run · Senior Zsofia Erdelyi looks to rebound from injury and an underwhelming 2009 season to lead the Women of Troy in 2010. - Brandon Hui | Daily Trojan

“I think we can take a step forward,” Walsh said. “This is a competitive group and they are all looking forward to the 2010 season to try and improve.”

That improvement likely hinges on whether USC can stay healthy. Injuries and illness prevented the Women of Troy from running at full strength until the end of the 2009 season and contributed to some disappointing performances at important meets. At the 2009 Pac-10 championships, USC could only muster a ninth-place finish.

Most of the runners affected by these setbacks, however, will get a second chance. USC will return several key pieces from its 2009 squad, none more important than senior Zsofia Erdelyi, USC’s highest-place finisher at the NCAA West Regionals race last year.

Erdelyi, who qualified for the NCAA championships in 2008, failed to do so last year after running a slower time in the regional meet than the Pac-10 meet. Erdelyi’s inconsistent 2009 season paralleled her team’s struggles, but Walsh believes the problems are a thing of the past.

“Zsofia’s season [in 2009] was a fluke,” Walsh said. “She got off to a bit of a slow start because of injuries and in cross-country that can hurt you. The season is so short that if you don’t get on track early, you end up playing catch up.”

Among the rest of the returning ranks are sophomore Kathleen Moloney, who had what Walsh called “an outstanding freshman season,” and senior Christine Cortez, who arrived last year as a transfer from Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif., and emerged as one of USC’s strongest runners.

Despite the solid group of returners, it’s the newcomers that provide the most reason for excitement. Redshirt sophomore Shelby Buckley, who was forced to sit out last season because of her intra-conference transfer from UCLA, is expected to make an immediate contribution.

“We’re really excited about Shelby,” Walsh said. “She’s got great credentials. We can’t wait to see what she can do for us.”

Walsh also anticipates incoming freshmen Jaclyn Walles and Katie DeYoung to make an impact. Walles won the Los Angeles City Championship for Venice High School in her junior year, and DeYoung is a formidable long-distance runner from Serra Catholic in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

USC still faces an uphill climb, however. In terms of overall dominance, the Pac-10 might be the best conference in all of collegiate women’s cross-country. Powerhouses like Oregon, Stanford and Washington annually field national championship contenders, and the rest of the conference produces tough competition year after year.

Despite a strong field of opponents, Walsh and his team aren’t backing down. The coach put together what he calls a “challenging, but not overwhelming” schedule that begins Sept. 11 at the UC Irvine Invitational and includes a trip back to the Stanford Invitational the following week. It’s Stanford that Walsh has circled on his calendar as a marquee meet.

“I’m really looking forward to it because we did so poorly there last year,” Walsh said. “We need to make up for that. It’s a very important meet for us.”

USC will also travel to Cal State Northridge and the Titan Invitational in Fullerton, Calif., before competing in the Pac-10 championships on Oct. 30.