Photo courtesy of Elliott Portillio | Humboldt runner Nicholas Brichta leads the race down the final straight.

Jacks Cross Country team sets high bar, aims higher

Cal Poly Humboldt Cross Country team sets high bar, aims higher
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by Dezmond Remington

The Cal Poly Humboldt cross country teams have been on a ruthless quest for nothing but redemption for almost a year straight. After a solid victory on the men’s side and a more than respectable second place finish for the women at the season opener, they are one step closer. 

The Jim Hunt Humboldt Invitational was on Sept. 17, the first meet of the season for the Humboldt cross country teams. The men’s team was led by transfer student Nicholas Brichta, who won in 25:30 over a hilly eight kilometers. Humboldt also won the team race with 26 points to Southern Oregon’s 35 and Willamette’s 75. After the Humboldt men’s last-place finish at the CCAA Championships last season, Brichta said he was eager to add his talent to the team and hopefully improve on the team’s performance.

Brichta knew before the race he likely had a good chance to win even though he hadn’t raced in a while, as he said he felt training had been going well. He powered away from the pack on the last lap to win by 12 seconds over Southern Oregon’s Zackary Alexander.

“It’s only up from here,” Brichta said. “I’m excited to get into some harder competition and run fast… I want to get all-conference and help the team out.”

Junior Carson Smith, who ran 14:38 for 5000m and 3:56 for 1500m last track season, took 7th overall, but wasn’t pleased with that showing. Smith said he had been feeling under the weather for several days before the race and wasn’t able to have the race he wanted, but was pleased with how the team did. 

“The whole team did really well,” Smith said. “I’m really excited for everything else this season… [I think the team is going to do] extremely well. [We had] a very tight group up all inside that top 10 spots. Just as a whole, the team is looking super, super strong.”

“The big goal is Nattys [nationals] as a team,” Smith said. “That’s a stretch, but not too far of a stretch. We’re going to need to perform well at pre-nationals in October, and have the best race of our lives in November out in Montana for regionals… an end goal is always nationals. And this year, it’s looking really, really doable.”

Freshman Luis Sandoval, in his first race of his college career and first 8k, finished ninth, which he was fairly pleased with, as he was running solo after four kilometers on a punishing course. 

“It hurt a lot,” Sandoval said. “I was 4k in, and I was like, ‘this is barely halfway’…I just kept my eyes on [teammate] Aris [Valerio]. He was right in front of me, about 20 or 30 meters…and I wasn’t closing it but I was just kind of keeping my eyes on him. He was my anchor through the last 4k.”

While the women’s team didn’t do quite as well, taking second with 24 points to Southern Oregon’s 40, many of the runners were still pleased with their personal performances and those of the team’s as well. 

Senior Rosa Granados, who won the women’s 6k in a dominant fashion in 22:25 (a lead of 18 seconds over second place,) said she felt really good that day and thought the season opener went well. Her goal is also to perform well at the conference championships and, if everything goes well, make it all the way to nationals. It would be a perfect coda for Granados, as this is her last cross country season. 

“Training with the ladies… it’s something that as a senior I’m going to miss so much next year,” Granados said. “And today was a bittersweet moment because it’s the last first home race for cross country for me, but overall, just everything the girls bring to the table is pretty much Nationals level thinking and mindset and racing and training and all that good stuff.”

Freshman Jess Hill-Roddick of the Humboldt women’s team took 15th in 25:17, who said it was painful, but felt pretty good especially considering it was the longest distance she’d ever raced. 

“I really like the team,” Hill-Roddick said. “I really like the people, which really helps during racing and the training because we’re doing it for each other and it’s not just me out there.”

Head cross country coach Jamey Harris was more than content with how both teams opened their seasons, as the women’s team wasn’t at full strength due to illness. 

“That was a really solid performance for the people we had out there,” Harris said. “…On the men’s side, getting a win over the number 10 NAIA school in the nation [Southern Oregon], that’s pretty good stuff.” 

Harris is fairly confident about his teams’ chances this year, who said pretty much all of the athletes looked really strong, although they did have quite a lot of work to do before the regional championships in Billings, Montana in November. Compared to the previous season, however, they are leaps and bounds improved. 

“We’re definitely better,” Harris said. “We’re capable of being better than last year, both on the men’s and women’s sides.”

What any season will bring is never certain, but it seems every runner on the team is keen to find out.

“I’m excited for what we have in store and what we have banked up,” Granados said. “And I’m excited to see what’s left and what we have going forward.”

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