By: Elliott Portillo
It almost felt like a Division Two Pre-Nationals meet this past weekend as 10 nationally ranked teams converged at the Lewis Crossover in Illinois. As expected, many of these teams pulled out all of the stops and performed exceptionally well. Western Colorado confirmed why they are in the top five nationally while other schools (such as Queens and Simon Fraser) continued to climb up in the polls. It is easy to acknowledge these teams’ successes, but there was one other program that showed exceptional promise this weekend.
However, UC San Diego’s performance this weekend went relatively unnoticed compared to the other standout teams they faced. However, their finish was very noteworthy and bodes well for them as we begin to turn towards conference and regional championships.
The Tritons, previously unranked going into this weekend, jumped all the way up to 18th in the national polls after their superb run. They also moved up from 8th to 5th in the uber-stacked West region.
San Diego capped off their trip to the Midwest with a 6th finish at the Lewis Crossover. They finished ahead of 17th ranked Walsh, who they outdistanced by 32 points. They also finished in front of previously ranked Southern Indiana and regional foe Western Oregon, who, subsequently, both fell in the rankings this week.
UCSD employed strong pack running and thrived among the top programs. They were led by Tim Corvese, who finished 22nd overall with a mark of 25:22 over the 8k distance. This was Corvese’s first time leading the Triton charge, and he showed that he could be a viable piece in their lineup. The junior has impressive middle-distance PR’s, running bests of 1:52 and 3:54 in the 800 and 1500, respectively, during the outdoor season. He has also run 15 flat for 5000 meters. If he can continue to translate his speed to the cross country course, he will be a potent option in San Diego’s scoring five.
The next two Triton scorers followed closely behind Corvese. The pair of Brett Beattie and Elijah Horwitz coasted within three seconds of each other, finishing in 35th and 36th place, respectively. Beattie, only a freshman, ran well and outperformed his experience level. He showed confidence and poise for someone as young as himself. His time of 25:36 is a good indicator of what is to come. Horwitz, who has been the Tritons top scorer so far this season, kept it close with his teammates and ended the day in a key scoring spot. He has improved vastly in his first two years with San Diego and has a lot left in the tank.
Jake Selstad finished as the fourth man on Saturday. He crossed the finish line in a time of 25:47, good for 46th place overall. This was Selstad’s first time under 26 minutes, a fact that marks consistent and noticeable improvement from the sophomore.
The other freshman in the Tritons’ lineup, Noah Monroy, closed out the scoring. He finished 62nd while also dipping under 26 minutes with a time of 25:58. Monroy, a local San Diego talent, has raced rather consistently thus far in his freshman campaign. He will look to improve as the squad moves closer into the post-season.
Overall, UCSD’s strength came from it's pack ability. They were able to compete (and prosper) in a very competitive field without any individual finishing in the top 20. Their spread? A phenomenal 36 seconds. That is a good indicator for big time races like regionals, where it is often difficult in such a large field to find and stick with your teammates. In a conference like the CCAA, where the field is saturated with talent, every spot will matter.
It appears, so far, that the main theme for the Tritons this year is youth. San Diego lacks a senior scorer in their top five. Four of their scorers were freshmen and sophomores. Corvese, the elder statesman of the group, is only a junior. Their development has been encouraging going forward, but they will need to maintain consistency if they are to advance to Nationals. Though talented, this team lacks some depth in comparison to some of its regional counterparts. They could find themselves slipping if just one individual in that pack has a bad day.
Without any stand out low-sticks and a small margin for error, the Tritons will have to rely on their racing experience from this year to help them when it really matters. Although this point clashes with my claim that this is a young, fairly inexperienced team, it makes sense. Running races as stacked and as big as the Lewis Crossover are bound to help achieve that championship feeling when they toe the line in November. This squad will know how to get out and find each other, as well as settle into a large pack. This is a quality that, while it may seem trivial, cannot be overlooked.
The Tritons compete in arguably one of the toughest conferences and toughest regions in all of Division Two. Three teams from the CCAA (including UCSD) are ranked within the top 25 in the nation. Four teams are within the top ten regionally.
Simply put, it’s stacked.
While it appears Chico and Pomona may have the first and second spots in conference secured (barring any surprises), spots three through six appear wide open. Last year, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th place teams in the conference were only separated by eight points. In 2018, that margin could be even smaller.
The advantage will come down to which teams can supply the best top to bottom spread. If everyone runs to their capabilities, that team could very well be San Diego.
Despite the promise this youthful team brings to the table, UCSD’s window of opportunity is closing rapidly. In the summer of 2020, the team will make its transition to a full Division One program. This leaves only this year and next year for the Tritons to qualify for a D2 National Championship before the transition period bars the team from any championship competition (for four years). The move makes sense, given that UC San Diego is the only Division Two institution within the UC system, and would benefit from the increased exposure (and money) that goes into Division One programs. No matter how positive this move is in the long term, it drastically changes the dynamic and outlook for this team.
With this future looming over some of UCSD’s younger athletes, it is important they focus on the task in front of them. This team has the pack and mentality needed to run at a very high level, and they will need all hands on deck when they face off in Billings in late November.