And just like that, the cross-country season is already approaching its end. This Friday, the Washington cross-country teams will head back to Palo Alto for the Pac-12 Championships. Coming off a runner-up appearance at the Pre-Nationals in Wisconsin, the men’s squad jumped five spots in the rankings to No. 7, its highest ranking in 21 years. The women will enter the race at No. 16 for the third consecutive week.
The Pac-12 continues to be one of the best conferences in the country for cross-country, and Washington will have its work cut out for it. The men are one of five teams ranked in the top-15, slotting in behind No. 4 Stanford, and right in front of No. 8 Colorado, No. 11 Oregon, and No. 12 UCLA. Reigning individual Pac-12 champion Grant Fisher is back for the Cardinal just a week after being named USTFCCCA athlete of the week for winning the Pre-Nationals.
“I think it’s good to have a tough conference ultimately because iron sharpens iron,” Director Maurica Powell said. “The tougher the competition you face earlier in the year, the more fine the race strategies have to be, the tougher the kids have to get, the more callused they have to be against competition, and it helps them be prepared to face more good teams later.”
The Washington men have some heavy hitters of their own. The triple-threat of senior Tanner Anderson, and sophomores Tibebu Proctor and Talon Hull have placed in the top-15 in consecutive races. Additionally, senior Mahmoud Moussa had his best race of last year in the Pac-12 championships where he placed fifth overall, and the Huskies have seen gradual improvement from juniors Julius Diehr, Andrew Snyder, Mick Stanovsek, and senior Fred Huxham.
“They have several individuals who’ve had a good breakout race over a tough cross-country course at some point,” Powell said. “The challenge now has been to get them to do it on the same day, and their performance at the Pre-Nats is a good indication of what they can do when they’re all dialed in.”
The women’s race will also feature some of the best in the country. For the second week in a row, No. 1 Colorado has held top spot in the USTFCCCA rankings. Oregon, the Powells’ former team, slides in at No. 4, two places in front of No. 6 Stanford. Washington is the last ranked squad on the women’s side, although Oregon State, UCLA, and Utah all recieved votes.
“This conference is deep enough that the last time I had a team win an NCAA championship, we were fourth at the conference meet a couple weeks earlier,” Powell said. “It’s crazy, it’s fun, and I think it’s good to have a tough conference.”
Similar to the men’s race, reigning Pac-12 individual title holder Dani Jones will return for Colorado after beating junior Katie Rainsberger, then of Oregon, and the now graduated UW runner Amy-Eloise Neale, by just two seconds in last year’s edition of the race. Oregon’s Jessica Hull will also be in the hunt after winning the Cardinal race at the Pre-Nationals two weeks ago.
For the women, the Huskies will again expect Rainsberger and senior Emily Hamlin to lead the squad. The Dawgs are also running junior Lilli Burdon for the first time as the Oregon transfer prepares to make her Washington debut. However, junior Kaitlyn Neal, the Huskies’ second finisher in Wisconsin, will not run. Five of the nine Husky runners will be freshman with no championship level experience according to Powell.
The race will be at Stanford Golf Course, the same course the Husky women raced on in the Stanford Invitational where Rainsberger finished runner-up and the team placed third.
“The course is a little different than it was when we were last there, but absolutely seeing it once helps,” Powell said.
The Pac-12 Championships will be hosted be on Friday, Oct. 26 at 11 a.m. and will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network.
Reach reporter Andy Yamashita at email@example.com. Twitter: @ANYamashita