By: Elliott Portillo
This past weekend of racing was probably the most jam-packed and action-filled so far. Races like Nuttycombe, Griak, and Stanford consumed national attention as some of the big dogs from all divisions showed their cards. Many other meets occurred, featuring some of the most prominent programs in the nation. One such meet was the Capital Cross Challenge in Sacramento, where #5 ranked Chico State finally opened their season. The Wildcats showed that patience pays off and they did not disappoint in their first real test of the season. The undisputed kings of the CCAA for the last two decades flexed their talent and dominated the race, easily winning over some quality competition from both Division Two and Division Three.
This wasn’t the Wildcats first rodeo at this venue. The Haggin Oaks facility, which will be the host site for the Division Two National Championship in 2019, has been friendly to this program. They have won this meet for the past three seasons and cruised once again this year. Coach Gary Towne’s team dropped a low score of 42 points, easily breaking away from 2nd place Pepperdine and 3rd place Pomona-Pitzer (currently ranked 5th in the country in Division Three). The ‘Cats also made quick work of CCAA foe and 20th ranked Cal Poly Pomona, distancing themselves from the Mustangs by 120 points and placing six runners in front of Pomona’s number one.
Eddie King was the first to cross the line, finishing 4th overall with an impressive mark of 24:16 over 8000 meters. The senior is no stranger to big performances. Last track season, he finished 8th and garnered All-American honors at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, running a solid mark of 14:17 for the 5k. Though it appears he was a bit injured for a good part of last year’s cross country season, he should be a solid contributor given he remains healthy.
Jason Intravaia and Jack Johnson were the next two Wildcats, finishing together in 8th and 9th place, respectively. This was Intravaia’s first opportunity to show off on the cross country course and the redshirt senior didn’t disappoint. He carries impressive marks over from track, throwing down a solid 14:30 5k. If he can translate his growing success from the track to the grass, he could be a serious low stick given his rapid progression. Johnson is another versatile athlete that has shown his worth before. He boasts impressive PR’s of 14:07 and 8:59 for the 5k and steeplechase, respectively. Johnson also has solid durability, completing the 5k / steeplechase double at last year’s outdoor national meet.
Wyatt Baxter was the fourth man, running 24:46 for 19th. A reigning conference champion in the men’s 10k, he is another athlete who could be near the top on any given day. The redshirt sophomore was an alternate for the Wildcats championship team last year. In 2018, he looks more fit and ready to take on a critical role.
Closing out the scoring five was Teddy Kassa in 22nd. He was followed closely by Luis Ortega in 23rd. Both finished under 25 minutes and cemented a solid spread for the Wildcats. Kassa, who was last year’s newcomer of the year at the conference championships, looks to build upon a successful first year. Ortega, a fellow California community college transplant, is someone who have a breakout performance on any single day. He boasts an 8k cross country PR of 24:02, which shows just how strong he is when at full strength.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how deep the roster goes for the Wildcats. Gary Towne has an abundance of talent, and it shows in the rest of their results. Of the 15 athletes the Wildcats had run in uniform last Saturday, 13 were under 26 minutes and six were under 25 minutes. Their top 11 placed in the top 50 of a nearly 300 person field, while their top six were all within the top 25. Overall, the ‘Cats 1-5 spread of 40 seconds is arguably one of the strongest in the country.
Chico State also finished with an average time of 24:36. This, paired with what may have been a slightly longer than 8k course according to the meet director, shows that Chico has the potential to get this average down even further as they get used to racing again.
One of the most lethal aspects of this team is the fact that anyone could be the top athlete on any given day. There is no need to rely on one athlete to take the reins every race.
Chico State’s performance this last weekend showed the nation that their #5 ranking is indeed no fluke. The Wildcats are potent and versatile enough to mix it up with the big boys from Adams State and GVSU.
As has been the case for the past couple of years, the road to Nationals in an always competitive West Region will go through Chico. The Wildcats have a long tradition of dominance, particularly at the conference and regional levels. They have captured the past 16 conference titles and have qualified for the National Championships in each of the past 19 seasons. This program has been a model of consistency for the greater part of two decades.
However, this success has struggled to transfer over to the national stage. Last year, a 4th place ranking going into the National Championships ended with a 9th place finish, as the team was unable to replicate the close pack running that had made them so successful all season. Despite the number of times Chico has qualified to the national championships, they have never found themselves within the top three.
Chico will have their work cut out for them if they are to achieve their goal of making the podium. The Wildcats currently have no individuals ranked in the Top 20 according to our rankings. Without the services of quality low-sticks such as Kyle Medina and Will Reyes (both now budding professionals), this team will have to rely on its pack and spread to ensure a low score.
Gary Towne has the tools, experience and personnel to put it together, but it will take a full effort from every man on the right day to achieve it. There will be no room for error when the ‘Cats toe the line on December 1st in Pennsylvania. The Chico squad knows this, and they will be ready.