Cross CountrySports

Washington is clear favorite for Pac-10 championship



Taylor Schefstrom

With the women’s Pacific-10 Conference Cross Country Championships taking place tomorrow, it’s hard not to remember Washington’s breakthrough performance at last season’s Pac-10s.
 

The Huskies came into Springfield Country Club in 2008 and, in the words of senior Nicole Blood, “we kind of underestimated them.”
 

A large pack of Washington runners dictated the pace of the field, and each of the top six places belonged to runners clad in purple and gold. No men’s or women’s team in Pac-10 history had ever scored the minimum 15 points in the conference championship race.
 

The shock of the performance has only been matched by the dominance No. 1 Washington has imposed since. The Huskies went on to win the 2008 national championship and have not lost thus far this season. All of the top five finishers from last year’s Pac-10s — individual champion Kendra Schaaf, Mel Lawrence, Christine Babcock, Kailey Campbell and Katie Follett — have returned.

The 6,000m women’s race begins at 4 p.m. today at Skylinks Golf Course in Long Beach, Calif., and Washington is the overwhelming favorite to take home its second consecutive team title over No. 8 Oregon, No. 12 Stanford and No. 17 Arizona, among others.

“There’s no question that they’re good,” Oregon head coach Vin Lananna said. “(Washington head coach Greg) Metcalf says that they’re better than they were a year ago. I guess that makes it sound like they should be the hands-on, absolute favorites. From where I sit, it should be a lot closer than that.

“I think that we have a great one-two-three punch (in Blood, junior Alex Kosinski and freshman Jordan Hasay). I think it comes down to whether or not our first three can make a big dent in the first four or five from Washington.”
 

The Duck women have confidence, at least, in the face of their most daunting obstacle of the season to date.
 

“They have good teams. There’s no doubt about that,” said redshirt sophomore Claire Michel, who has cemented herself as the Ducks’ fourth runner this season. “But I think we’re equally as fit. I just approach this race like I would an exam. So if you study hard and you worked for it, then you’re ready to take the exam. I think we have all the pieces. We just need to put it together on game day.”
 

So far, the Duck women have had trouble making all the pieces fit. At the Bill Dellinger Invitational on Oct. 2, Villanova snuck up on the Ducks and took the team title. At the Pre-Nationals Invitational, Oregon finished in third place but saw some uncharacteristic performances (specifically, a 77th-place finish from junior Alex Kosinski). Running as a team has been more of a struggle than previously expected.
 

Blood, one of the team leaders, can find some team inspiration within her own struggles. She placed a disappointing 15th at the Dellinger, admitting that she did not run her best race.
 

“Personally, I had to smack myself across the face and tell myself to really get tough,” Blood said with a chuckle. “I was fit, I was ready to go, I just panicked. Not only was it a disappointment to myself, it was a disappointment to my coaches and my teammates.”
She settled down for Pre-Nationals, finishing in 12th place, and has historically performed well at Pac-10s, recording fourth- and eighth-place finishes in each of the past two years.
Oregon will need more than redemptive performances, however, to win its first women’s cross country conference title since 1995.
 

“I’m very confident in our athletes and I’m very confident in their ability,” Lananna said. “They have beaten those kids at one time or another. It’s just a question of whether they can do that (today).”
 

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