CSUN cross-country takes on best in the West

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CSUN Athletics Department

Nicole Contreras races at the Anteater Opener at UC Irvine on Sept. 1, 2022, in Irvine, Calif.

David Nunez, Reporter

The Matadors men’s and women’s cross-country teams raced in the Big West Championships on Oct. 29 at UC Riverside’s Agricultural Operations Course, finishing low in both divisions. The men’s team finished eighth of nine universities, while the women’s team finished dead last. CSUN has a history of placing low in the competition, especially in the case of the men’s team, which finished in last place from 2001 to 2016.

The men’s team continued to see lower placements until 2021, when it finished sixth out of nine teams, the highest CSUN has ever placed in the event. The women’s team has been more sporadic over the years, finishing just three times since CSUN began competing in the Big West Championships in 2001.

CSUN’s cross-country teams did not focus on the past, but instead looked to turn the page in this championship race.

Sonia Avila, a junior from Santa Clarita, acknowledged the struggles the team faced.

“Positive thoughts are a big thing for us,” Avila said. “The girls’ team struggles with this sometimes. Usually, when we’re up against big schools it kinda gets in our heads, but we just need to focus on ourselves and push through.”

Both the women’s and men’s cross-country teams are filled with new players who had never previously raced in the Big West Championships. The only athletes on the men’s team who had were redshirt juniors James Moore and Noah Contreras, and sophomores Daniel Rodriguez and Aaron Routh. On the women’s team, only five out of 10 runners had raced in the championship before: Avila, junior Ouanessa Nana, redshirt sophomore Leann Hamilton, sophomore Elin Markarian and senior Estefania De Los Santos.

The Matadors finishing times for both the men’s and women’s cross-country teams at the Big West Championships on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022, in Riverside, Calif. (Edward Segal)

CSUN’s new roster generated a lot of questions regarding their performance on a stage as grand as this one. The real uncertainty for these teams was whether or not they could break out of CSUN’s past losing streaks.

Assistant coach Devin Elizondo thought both the men’s and women’s teams were more than equipped heading into the competition.

“Every race for our team has felt like a championship-level meet to them,” Elizondo said prior to the race. “We’ve been in these big invitationals with over 200 athletes, and now we actually get a little bit more space to race on this one, so we can swing through it.”

CSUN faced nine other teams at the Big West Championships, racing against some repeat competitors like UC Irvine, UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara, CSU Long Beach and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, who have all gotten the better of CSUN in prior meets this season.

“We know all these athletes and all their coaches,” Elizondo said. “All the teams in the Big West are familiar with one another, so races like these are the cool and fun battles where we know that they got us the past few times, but we have the chance to even that score since everybody’s at the Big West Championships.”

CSUN will next race at the NCAA West Regional Championships on Nov. 11 in University Place, Washington. This event will give CSUN the chance to race at the NCAA National Championships, as long as they are able to place in the top four teams in the meet. The top two teams will have a guaranteed spot in nationals, while the third and fourth place teams will be subject to an at-large vote to see if they will be able to compete as well.