Cross Country Place First in Season Opener

The women’s cross country team started their season exactly where they left off last year.
One year removed from winning the Big West Conference title, the women’s squad took little time to establish their dominance as they captured first place in the UC Irvine Invitational on Sept. 9 at Huntington Beach.
Sophomore Laura Olvera and junior Sara Mickelson led the Anteaters to victory, finishing in first and second place respectively in the 5,000-meter race. Junior Marie Nguyen just cracked the top 10, finishing in ninth place.
Olvera, who was named Big West Freshman of the Year last season, finished just ahead of her UCI teammate registering a time of 17:07.7. Mickelson finished with a time of 17:31.1, while Nguyen was more than a minute and a half behind, completing the race in 18:40.4.
‘I was really happy,’ Olvera said, after her first-place finish. ‘But I was even happier to know that we had collectively won first place. It showed that we had all put in our share of hard work during the summer and it gave us a lot of encouragement for the season and what is yet to come.’
Experience was a key factor in the women’s victory as Head Coach Vince O’Boyle, who is in his 25th season, returned seven starters from last season.
‘I feel this veteran team has the potential to repeat as conference champion if everyone had a good summer of training and we develop like we did last year,’ O’Boyle said. ‘UC Santa Barbra will be returning a good group of redshirts and Long Beach State is much improved so I feel it will be these three teams who will be competing for the conference championship.’
On the other side, the men’s cross country team finished a distant second place behind UC Santa Barbara. Senior Ricky Barnes was the lone bright spot for the Anteaters as he captured first place in the 5-mile race with a final time of 24:49.3. Barnes had redshirted last season, but took little time to regain his dominant 2004 form. His closest teammate was junior Tim Hearst who was well behind in 16th place with an overall time of 25:36.9.
Although the men’s team finished in second place, the coaching staff remains optimistic about the team’s chances heading into their next competition at the Stanford Invitational on Sept. 30.
‘I think this men’s team might be the best squad we have had in a long time,’ O’Boyle predicted before the season. ‘They have been working hard over the summer with a group of them training together at Mammoth. Ricky Barnes, Tom Whelan and John Kluve return from a redshirt year to join everyone back from last year’s team. I am looking forward to seeing how hard they work and develop to come together.’
UC Santa Barbra and Cal Poly will be UCI’s main competition in their next event. The women’s team was predicted to finish in second place, behind Santa Barbra, while the men’s team was projected to finish in third place in the Big West Conference behind both Santa Barbara and Cal Poly.
There was some bad news for the team when associate coach Ben Cesar announced his resignation, two days after the victory.
Cesar had been a coach for the Cross Country team for eight years and will now take a job as marketing manager.
‘I would like to thank Vince O’Boyle for giving me the opportunity to come back and coach at UC Irvine, and my athletes for allowing me to share with them my knowledge and passion for the sport,’ Cesar said. ‘I am honored to have been a part of the great tradition that is UC Irvine Track and Field.’
Later in the week, both Olvera and Barnes were honored as the Big West Conference Athletes of the Week in recognition of their top finishes at the UC Irvine Invitational.