Updated: Sep 26
*A previous edition of this article previously stated that Jhavan Holston was returning to this team in 2020. However, TSR has since confirmed that Holston is no longer running for Chico State. Thank you to an observant reader for the initial tip.
The Chico State Wildcats are one of the most consistent D2 cross country teams that we have seen in the past decade. Their dominance has strung together 18 straight CCAA conference titles, 15 West Regional Championships in the last 18 years, and five straight seasons of finishing in the top 10 at the NCAA Championships. Not to mention they haven’t missed the national meet since 1998.
In other words, history says that they will be a great team once again whenever they return to competition.
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Last year's Chico State varsity lineup consisted of Wyatt Baxter, Jack Emanuel, Jhavan Holston, Rory Abberton, Trad Berti, Remington Breeze and Matthew Herrera. In a season where everything was normal, six of those seven runners would be retuning, making them a very deep and more arguably more threatening team in the D2 ranks.
As for last year, the Wildcats had a very impressive season as they always seem to. To start their 2019 season, Chico rolled the Stump Invitational by placing their top seven runners all in the top 10, led by Trad Berti being the individual winner of the race. Two weeks later, Chico State had their toughest challenge yet as they were slated for the nationally acclaimed Capital Cross Challenge, which also hosts numerous nationally ranked D2 teams.
When the dust settled at the Capital Cross Challenge, Chico State finished 2nd overall as a team, only one spot behind Division One program Cal Poly. A 2nd place result wasn't an overall victory, but they did walk away with wins over nationally ranked D2 teams such as UC San Diego (now in D1), Queens (N.C.) and Cal State San Marcos.
Coming off their big day at the Capital Cross Challenge, the Wildcats kept the ball rolling in their last regular season race, the Western Washington XC Classic. Chico State easily defeated runner-up team Western Washington, 24 to 96 over the 10,000 meter race. Trad Berti set the tempo by placing 2nd overall with an impressive time of 31:40. Following Berti were five more Wildcats finishing in the top 10 (which included Holston in 4th, Baxter in 5th, Herrera in 7th, Breeze in 8th and Emanuel in 9th).
We could go into detail about their CCAA and West region titles, but the point is that they simply dominated and took home another pair of trophies to add to their extensive collection. None of that was surprising, even if they were facing national-caliber programs.
To cap off Chico State’s amazing 2019 season was the NCAA Championships. The Wildcats had a great outing in Sacramento, putting together a pack that would finish fairly close to each other. The results would read: Baxter in 26th place, Emanuel in 30th place, Holston 33rd, Abberton in 42nd place and Berti in 46th place to round out their top five scorers.
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We could down the list of names on this roster and detail what they each bring to the table. However, as you saw from their national meet results, this team has a bunch of athletes who are all capable of producing similar finishes, regardless of the meet size.
Admittedly, some runners are more consistent than others, but the depth on this team is outstanding and the Wildcats are now much more experienced compared to last year's lineup (which consisted of three sophomores and one freshman based on TFRRS results).
Despite having three All-Americans last fall (and nearly one or two more), the Wildcats will need a few of their best talents to step into the top 20 or top 10 places at the national meet in order to match the extraordinary firepower typically found in D2 title-winning teams.
If Chico State wants to make the jump from their 3rd place team finish at last year's national meet, each runner (including their low-sticks) must step up at NCAA’s in order to bring home the schools first ever team national title (whenever that may be).
That may be a tall task, but this is one of the few teams in the country capable of delivering on that challenge.