Cross country finishes in 10th place to end season

It wasn’t the end to the season that USC coach Tom Walsh envisioned, but the season itself is another story.

The USC women’s cross-country team placed 10th at Saturday’s Pac-10 championships in Seattle, Wash., bringing a slightly disappointing end to an otherwise solid year for the Women of Troy.

“This year was great because of the progress we made,” Walsh said. “Obviously it doesn’t show up on the Pac-10 score sheet, but the strides we made this fall were very encouraging.”

Senior Zsofia Erdelyi is one of the major reasons for those strides and was a bright spot for USC on Saturday. Erdelyi was the highest finisher for the Women of Troy, coming in 14th overall, a career best at the Pac-10 championships. The senior standout finished with a time of 20:30.27, placing three spots higher than she did as a sophomore.

“I felt like Zsofia almost ran a complete race,” Walsh said. “She had a bit of a bad stretch in the middle, but she bounced back nicely. She always seems to finish strong.”

Erdelyi’s season will continue as she travels to the NCAA West Regional meet in Eugene, Ore., on Nov. 13. There, she will try to race well enough to earn a trip to the NCAA championships in Terra Haute, Ind.

“Zsofia always seems to run better at regionals,” Walsh said. “So I’m excited to see what she can do there.”

The rest of Saturday’s race, however, was a slight disappointment for the Women of Troy. Although USC only finished 12 points out of eighth place, several runners could not duplicate their personal record performances from earlier in the year, and USC fell to last.

“This was a learning experience for these girls,” Walsh said. “Everyone was improving all year, but this was a different race on a totally different level. We have to get better at stepping up on the big stage.”

Senior Christine Cortez finished second for USC but was 41 places back of Erdelyi at 55th overall. Fellow senior Dina Kitayama finished 68th overall and third for the Women of Troy. Both runners finished just off their personal best times.

Junior Leah Gaeta was fourth for USC and 82nd overall, and sophomore Kelly Owen finished right behind her at 83rd overall. Senior Zara Lukens and redshirt sophomore Jessica Lundin rounded out the group for USC, finishing 84th and 88th overall.

“I was happy with our front three runners,” Walsh said. “And everyone else battled too. It just didn’t work out the way we would have liked.”

USC had the unenviable task of trying to make a dent in the nation’s toughest cross-country conference. Annual stalwarts Oregon and Stanford accounted for four of the race’s top five runners, with Stanford taking the title over second-place Arizona.