The Dark Horse is a Wildcat

By: John Cusick

Hello again ladies and gentlemen! We are t-minus 21 days out until the first meet of the cross country season among all divisions. I’d love to keep talking about our title contenders, but really, we don’t have much left when it comes to discussion points until we see them put a race together. Let’s chat about a team that could very well be a national contender come November if everything goes according to plan: The Chico State Wildcats.

Last fall, the Wildcats finished first at the West Regional and aspired to take home their first ever national title two weeks later. Ultimately, a weaker-than-expected run from some of their top athletes forced them to settle for a 9th place team finish.

Despite their unexciting finish at last year's championship, these men can still be one of the best teams in the nation for the 2018 season. The Wildcats are returning four of their seven athletes who competed at last year's West Regional meet*. Kyle Medina, Conner Fisher, and Caton Avilla are all gone. Their returners include Jack Johnson, Eddie King, Arturo Avelaro, and Teddy Kassa.

*The Wildcats only had six runners cross the line at the National Championships. It’s unknown if they chose to do so out of free will, or if one of their runners failed to finish the race.

Johnson enjoyed a very successful track season as he competed in both the 3000 meter steeplechase and the 5000 meters at the National Championships this past spring. He secured PRs in both events to qualify (8:59 and 14:07) and earned All-American honors finishing 7th in the steeplechase.

King also joined Johnson at the National Championships this past May. His PR of 14:13 was good enough to qualify him for the meet where he went on to finish 8th and also earn his first track and field All-American status.

Avelaro didn’t see the same success that the prior two had during the outdoor season, but his track season wasn’t lost. Avelaro recored personal bests in the 10,000 meters at his conference meet to finish 3rd. On the weekend of Bryan Clay and Long Beach Invites, he ran two PR's, one in the 1500 (3:54) and one in the 5000 (14:30). That progress and development gives us reason to believe that he’ll still be a big part of the Wildcats’ fall success.

Kassa was the 3rd scorer for the Wildcats last fall and endured a successful track season in the eyes of PR's. He finished 5th at his conference meet in the 10,000 meters with a PR of 31:38. Prior to that, he had PRs in the 800 (1:57), 1500 (4:00) and the 5000 (14:52). He still has some work to do, but it's clear that he is a better long distance runner with some untapped potential.

While we await the official release of the Wildcats 2018 roster, there are plenty of names who could potentially fill the role of the other three runners. Derek Morton (1:48, 3:54), Jason Intravaia (3:54, 14:30), Wyatt Baxter (14:41) and Remmington Breeze (14:45) have shown a lot of promise and are clearly super talented. It's not like they have hit their peak either. All of those times are from last year. They might just be getting started...

We are not sure what the Wildcats incoming roster looks like, but we do know that Gary Towne has done a wonderful job over the past year as the Chico State head coach. It’s easy to believe that Towne will continue to better the fitness of his athletes. In the words of the Wildcat athletes, #InTowneWeTrust. Or in this case, #InTowneTheyTrust.

Not only that, but Chico State has a history of success. It's rare to see them falter for an entire season/year. When you think of consistent D2 distance programs, Chico State is a school that quickly comes to mind for many. Simply put, it's not a good idea to pick against these guys.

With another summer of strong training under their belt, the Wildcats should be a shoe-in for the national meet with a legitimate chance of repeating as the West Regional champions. Who knows? Maybe they could do more than win just the West Regional...