The CSUN men’s and women’s cross country teams had a strong showing at the Northridge Invitational Saturday morning, one of the final tune up events before the Big West Conference Championships.
Despite not racing since Sept. 25 at the Stanford Invitational and running under wet conditions, the Matador runners managed faster times.
The Matador women finished fourth as a team out of eight behind UC Riverside, CSU Fullerton and USC.
Senior Lilyana Morejon led the way for CSUN by finishing second out of 87 runners in the 6k with a time of 21:01.1, a close nine seconds behind winner Zsofi Erdelyi of USC. Morejon and Erdelyi were shoulder to shoulder until Erdelyi pulled away in the final loop and finished with 20:52.7.
Morejon finished second for the second consecutive year, even though last year’s event was cut short to a 5k due to heat conditions.
“It felt good, we had two intense meets so I think that helped a lot,” said Morejon on running despite no activity for three weeks. “The race, it felt awesome because I feel really strong right now.”
Six of the 11 Matador women finished in the top 50, which contributed to the overall team average of 22:50.5, an improvement from the 23:33 at Stanford.
Other Northridge notables included senior Zitlalic Ley, who came in 24th place with 22:05.7, and sophomore Araceli Zainos who finished in 35th place with 22:39.3.
For the second consecutive meet, senior Juan Olea lead the CSUN men by finishing in 18th place out of 78 runners with a time of 25:07.2. He came in less than a minute behind the winner.
Olea improved on his last 8k at Stanford, which was a 25:32. The Matadors also improved their time, posting an average time of 26:51.4, 30 seconds faster than the last meet.
Despite recording individual times, the runners emphasize a team philosophy.
“Every time I think about going out there and winning, it is for my team,” Morejon said. “I love working in teams and as a long as my team gets stronger, I get stronger a well.”
Competing on familiar grounds was something the Matadors took advantage of, running at Woodley Park where they train.
“We practice here for the hard workouts and the longer runs because there’s more dirt and we can run on a softer surface,” Olea said. “It’s nice because you get a lot of support like all the track people come and they cheer for you it really helps out, it’s faster times and it’s fun too.”
Head coach Don Strametz said he liked the idea of hosting the event, especially on home turf.
“I think the big thing is it gives the kids a chance to run in front of their peers,” Strametz said. “Everybody got to see lots of action today.”
Strametz said he saw the big break in between meets had a significant effect on the runners, but he likes that the Invitational comes at a time when Championships are close.
“We had a great two weeks of practice right after Stanford and they’re really tired,” Strametz said. “They looked like they haven’t raced in three weeks so that’s why I’m glad we’re racing conference in two weeks.”
Looking ahead towards the Big West Championships on the eve of Halloween, Strametz expects nothing but the best out of his athletes.
“The expectations are for everyone to go out there and run a personal record, their own PR, and do as well as we can as a team,” Strametz said.
Olea looks at the makeup of the team and has no doubts going into championships.
“I think we’re looking better than we’ve looked,” Olea said. “This is my last year and this is the best team that we’ve had since I’ve been here.”