The Cal State Stanislaus women’s cross country team finished sixth in the region last fall with a senior-laden group of runners.
It was a great moment for the program, but the exodus of veterans from the roster left the still-talented Warriors still relatively untested heading into this season.
It’s not a problem, says coach Diljeet Taylor, as the team enters Saturday’s Stanford Invitational.
“We go into this meet to test where we are fitness-wise and also where we are as a team against a lot of Division I schools,” Taylor said. “I think we’re very fit and I know we’re really excited. I have more potential right now than I thought I had at the start of the season.”
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She was speaking about both the men’s and women’s teams, but the Warrior women have been a pleasant surprise to Taylor.
“The women’s seven is strong, but they’re so tight and competitive every day in practice that there’s no way I would be able to say who’s my No. 1,” Taylor said.
“This is something new. I’m able sell the whole team aspect and everybody is battling for a spot. It’s going to work in our favor in meets because if someone has a bad day there’s someone right there to pick them up.”
The top two Warriors women’s finishers in their most recent race, the Sept. 6 Alaska-Fairbanks Invitational, were newcomers. Alexu Lua, a transfer from American River College, finished second overall, and freshman Gina Wood was fifth overall.
“We don’t have a front-runner, but the pack is stronger,” Taylor said. “I have to mold someone into that role and it’s going to happen. By the time we reach conference and nationals I’ll have a better idea of who is going to be up there.”
She has no such problem on the men’s side. Senior Alex Villaescusa won the men’s 8k in Fairbanks and five Warriors finished in the top 6 in the three-way meet. Freshman Jesus Ortiz was second, while sophomore Michael Mrqudic, freshman David Rosales and sophomore Abraham Alvarado (Atwater High) placed fourth through sixth, with Alvarado’s sixth-place time only 31 seconds behind the winner.
With the preseason over, the Stanislaus women will put their No. 3 national ranking on the line twice this week on the road against programs familiar with the Warriors’ winning ways.
Stanislaus (7-0-0) opens California Collegiate Athletic Association play Friday at San Francisco State, then play Sunday afternoon at CSU Monterey Bay.
The Gators (5-1-0) will be a tough challenge as they attempt to enforce their solid defensive style. San Francisco has scored only 10 goals this season, but has allowed only four. But Stanislaus has owned this series, having gone 16-0-4 against the Gators since 2001, including two shutout wins last season. Monterey Bay takes a 3-2-0 record and a two-game win streak into the weekend.
The Warriors have started the season 2-3-1, and while they’ve outshot the opposition by better than a 2-to-1 margin they’ve had trouble hitting the net. Except for the 4-1 victory against winless NAIA foe Simpson (0-7), Stanislaus has not tallied more than one goal in any game. The Warriors have defeated the Gators (3-1-1) in two of the last three meetings, including the last time they played in San Francisco. The Otters (3-1-1) will enter the weekend well-rested, not having played since they battled the Warriors to a scoreless draw on Sept. 16 at Warrior Stadium.
The Warriors (1-7 overall and 1-3 in the CCAA) will celebrate their first victory of the season with a brutal roadtrip, with matches Thursday at Humboldt State and Saturday at CSU San Bernardino.
The itinerary is frightening enough, as Stanislaus will bus to Arcata (388 miles) for Thursday night’s match against the Lumberjacks (5-3, 2-2). On Friday, the Warriors will bus to Oakland (293 miles) and fly to Ontario for the Saturday match against the Coyotes (6-2, 3-1 and ranked No. 9 in the nation). The Stanislaus team will climb back on the bus Sunday morning for the 355-mile jaunt back home.