Oct. 29, 2005
For the second year in a row, the Gaucho men bounced back from a disappointing performance at the Pre-National meet, stepping it up with a strong performance at the Big West Championships. While #27 ranked Cal Poly SLO was the unanimous favorite for the title, the Gauchos knew that on their best day they could be spoilers. A thrilling race unfolded as the Gauchos refused to let the Mustangs win without a fight.
Hosted by UC Riverside, the gun went off at 8am on the 8,000 meter Agricultural Operations Course. Setting a blistering place early on, the lead pack of Grabow from Long Beach St. and Baker of SLO came through the one-mile mark in 4:42. The UCSB Gauchos sat back in the chase pack along with the rest of the SLO team and numerous others. Racing back into the groves, the race began to string out leading up to two miles.
With Grabow and Baker still leading at 9:28 through two miles, SLO had a few athletes break away from the chase pack to string out the race. Chris Ashley (Jr.) and Mike Chavez (Jr.) from UCSB followed close behind just inside the top 10 runners. Ashley was 4th in 2004 while Chavez was 6th. Scott Brandos (Sr.) and Alex Cardiasmenos (Sr.) running in their last Conference Championships also found themselves near the top ten along with teammate Micah Tyhurst (So.). Scott McConville (Sr.) and Mike Powers (So.) were back near the 20th position.
The race would turn into virtually a dual meet with the top 16 positions being split up between Cal poly and UCSB with the exception of Grabow from Long Beach. Coming through 3 miles with positions staying relatively the same, Ashley and Chavez began to make their move back from the bottom half of the top 10. Cardiasmenos, after a bad race two weeks ago, was having one of his best races in uniform as he found himself in the top ten and moving up. Brandos, Powers and Tyhurst maintained their position within the top fifteen.
Entering the final mile, Grabow was flailing, as was Baker. Three SLO runners tried to hold off the closing pair of Gauchos Ashley and Chavez in close pursuit. With 1200 meters to go and inspired by a frenzy of Gaucho fans' encouragement, Ashley made a bold move, racing ahead of the leaders and beginning a maniac-like tear for the finish.
Meanwhile back in the trail pack for second, 5th year senior Cardiasmenos had made contact and passed teammate Chavez. With 800 to go, Cardiasmenos, who in 2001 was a walk-on athlete that tried out for the team three times, was vying for 2nd in the Conference Championships. With 600 meters to go Cardiasmenos did indeed move into 2nd with the finish line just around the corner. A trio of Poly athletes remained close behind along with teammate Chavez less than 2 seconds behind. The door was slightly open for UCSB to possibly overcome the Mustangs.
As the home stretch came into view, Ashley out of San Mateo, CA had secured the win as he gapped the field by a staggering 12 seconds over the last 800 meters. He crossed the finish in an unofficial course record of 23 min. and 51 seconds winning his first Big West Conference Championship title. After the race, remarking on his move with a little more than 800m to go that won the race he simply stated, "When I caught up to the lead pack I realized I should just keep going, so that's what I did."
Ten seconds behind, Cardiasmenos could not contend with the potent finishing speed of his immediate competition, still ending up a remarkable 7th place in 24:04.5, good for his first All Conference Award. Chavez, a 1500-meter standout managed to pass Cal Poly's Baker and secure 5th place finishing just ahead of Cardiasmenos in 24:03.6. Only a 2 second window that separated the 2nd finisher from the 7th illustrated the intensity of the team battle.
With Poly putting four men in that top seven they had won the meet with the Gauchos coming up just a bit short. Tyhurst, Brandos and Powers finished in 12th (24:26), 13th (24:34) and 14th (24:39 respectively) to seal the 2nd place with 38 points to Poly's 24. Long Beach St. would wind up 3rd with 89 points.
Combining the women's finish with the men's effort, the UCSB program can boast of the best overall performance with both teams averaging second place.
The Gauchos next look to Palo Alto, CA, site of the 2005 NCAA West Regional Championships on November 12th. On the line will be five nationally ranked squads and five others who have found themselves on the bubble of national votes throughout the year. The squads will be vying for the coveted national qualifying berths in the 31-team National Championship field to be run in Terre Haute, IN on Nov. 21st. The NCAA currently has over 320 NCAA Div. I teams, making the sport of Cross Country one of the most competitive sports in the country and as the Big West Race proved, one of the most exciting.