After months of preparation, the WSU men’s and women’s cross country teams will take on the finest teams from around the conference in the Pac-12 Conference Championships Saturday in Litchfield Park, Ariz.
The race will be a true test to see how both the men and women fair against other top-notch teams in the nation.
“It is a great conference,” Cougar Head Coach, Pete Julian said. “There will be a great team that finishes fifth or sixth at that meet.”
The No. 22 ranked Cougar men head into the conference championships expecting big things. Coach Julian notes that this men’s team is one of the best WSU cross country teams in recent memory.
“I think we have a chance to do some things we haven’t done in the past, or at least in recent history,” Julian said.
Going into Saturday’s meet, the Cougar men find themselves in a position to win a division that is highly competitive, but it will ultimately come down to execution.
Coach Julian expects the team to call on its veteran leadership in runners Justin Englund, Jono Lafler, Andrew Kimpel, to set the pace for the men’s team.
With teams like Colorado, Stanford, and Oregon as favorites Saturday, Julian says there is little room for error if they hope to earn a top spot. Julian says the conference is so competitive that the team could run quite well and still end up finishing sixth.
“Our guys understand. We have raced these teams before. We know that the margin of error is plus or minus one, it is going to be right down to the bitter end,” Julian said. “But these guys are mature. It isn’t there first rodeo. They are looking forward to it.”
The more youthful and inexperienced Cougar women face an equally difficult challenge Saturday, as they prepare to face a women’s conference riddled with talent.
“The conference is incredibly tough. I think there are probably six teams ranked in the top 15 in the country,” Julian said. “We are not quite there yet.”
Though, Julian doesn’t expect the team to win, he does think they have a good chance at beating a handful of teams in, what will likely be, a competitive race.
With only one senior on the team, Julian believes this race is more about laying a foundation for the future.
“We are probably a year away from, I believe, cracking into that top 20, but we can certainly make some in-roads towards those things this year.”
Saturday will truly be a test for both teams as they battle both the heat of Arizona and the talent of the Pac-12 conference; Julian says he isn’t worried about either.
“We will run well, no question about that.”