Gauchos Eye Return to Postseason as Veteran Group Enters 2006 Season
Aug. 31, 2006
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The UC Santa Barbara men's cross country team opens its 2006 season on Saturday morning, Sept. 2, when it hosts Cal Poly and Westmont College in a three-way meet at UCSB's Campus Lagoon. The first meet could be the start of an outstanding year for the Gauchos.
Another strong UCSB men's squad will take to the line this cross country season. Fresh off of an outstanding track & field season and a close runner-up finish at the 2005 Big West Cross Country Championships, the veteran squad is poised to make a run at the National Championships.
For the second year in a row, five of the Gauchos' top seven that competed at the Big West Championships in the previous year will return. Included among the returnees is Chris Ashley, the 2005 Big West Champion who is entering his senior year. Ashley had a storybook win in 2005 and he is coming off strong performances in track where he finished 6th at the NCAA West Regional in the 5,000 meter final. He lowered his personal bests in the 1,500 meters to 3:48.87 and in the 5,000 meters to 14:03.65.
Also returning is 2005 Cross Country All-Big West athlete Mike Chavez, a senior who continued to compete consistently throughout the 2006 track campaign. 2006 Big West 10,000 meter champion Micah Tyhurst has yet to complete a full cross country, but with additional confidence gained by his performance during the 2006 track season he could have an outstanding 2006 cross country campaign. In fact, a healthy Tyhurst will give the Gauchos a strong 1-2-3 punch.
However, how much the Gauchos achieve as a team this season will depend on their supporting cast. Veterans Tim Aukshunas, Art Avitia, and Stewart Harwell, all seniors, and juniors J.D. Krawzyck and Mike Powers all have proven they can step up at times. Last year, Avitia came up big at the NCAA Pre-National meet finishing as the Gauchos third man, behind Chavez. Krawzyck, is coming off a career Track season where he dipped under 30 minutes for 10,000 meters and ran a best of 14:35 at 5,000 meters. Powers has been plagued by injury, but has managed to come back each year, resulting in a 14th place finish at last year's Big West Cross Country Championships.
Younger Gauchos such as sophomore Waleed Totari, who finished 6th at the 2006 Big West Track & Field 10,000 meter final, have the potential to break through and help UCSB achieve its goals.
Another strong recruiting class will also add depth as standouts, Dillon Brook (Shingle Springs, Calif./Ponderosa HS), Julian DeRubira (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif./Santa Margarita HS) and Colton Tully-Doyle (San Diego, Calif./Rancho Bernardo HS) have proven themselves as good cross country runners throughout their high school careers. Other possible contributors include Jayson Hayes (Huntington Beach, Calif./Edison HS), who was a strong miler in High School and Ben Fletcher, a transfer from the University of Vermont.
The Gauchos will again face their toughest competition from their Central Coast rivals, Cal Poly. UCSB was once again picked 2nd in the Big West Preseason Coaches Poll and will have to put four, maybe five runners in the top -10 to come away with a win at the 2006 Championships. The Mustangs also return five of their top seven from last year's Big West Championship team that went head to head with the Gauchos. Another squad to look out for will UC Irvine as the Anteaters return a few of their best athletes who red-shirted the 2005 season. They were picked 3rd in the Big West poll.
In order to advance to the NCAA Championships, UCSB will have to have five runners at the top of their games at the Pre-National Meet in the middle of October and then follow it up with a strong performance in one of the toughest regional championships in the United States, the NCAA West Regionals. NCAA qualification is based on points earned by defeating teams from other regions who qualify automatically out of their own region. An automatic bid is awarded to the programs that finish in the top-two of their respective region. UCSB may also qualify by finishing ahead of teams that score points at the NCAA West Regional, thus getting "pushed" in. The last Gaucho squad to advance to the NCAA Championships was the 2001 team that finished in 17th place and was led by All-American Josh Horton, who also finished in 17th-place.