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Regionally Ranked Cal Poly Cross Country Teams Open Season on Saturday

Regionally Ranked Cal Poly Cross Country Teams Open Season on Saturday

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Ultimately looking for a sweep of the Big West Conference team and individual championships on both the men's and women's sides for a third straight year, the Cal Poly cross country program will open its season at the Lagoon Open hosted by UC Santa Barbara (starting behind the University Center) at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

The Mustangs are ranked No. 8 in the men's preseason coaches poll for the West Region, which also includes the Pac-12, West Coast, Mountain West and Big Sky conferences. The women's team is ranked 12th.

"We have a mix of returners and newcomers on both teams — all very talented individuals who look forward to starting the season and working together to make each other better," head coach Mark Conover said.

Five runners on the men's team — senior Blake Ahrold (2012's Big West runner-up), junior Tyler Huntley and sophomores Dimitri Voytilla, Clayton Hutchins and Riess Haslam — are all back after scoring at conference championship meets over the past three seasons.

The squad should also be led by sophomore Nick Woolf, a back-to-back Big West steeplechase champion (most recently at 8:55.97), junior Kyle Lynch (who has placed in the top 35 at the league's cross country finals in his first two times out) and sophomore David Galvez (the conference's 10th-place steeplechaser as a true freshman).

From the women's team, eight competitors also have contributed to team totals at Big West finals in recent falls: senior Hanna Edwards, juniors Meghan Breadmore (the 2011 conference freshman of the year), Michelle Read, Laura Hollander, Rachel Bush and Sara Van Dyke, and sophomores Ashley Windsor (the 2013 freshman of the year) and Mary Jo Wright.

More team leaders will likely include senior Ashley Bergstrom (last year's Fresno State Invitational winner), sophomores Kylie Nishisaka (who had Cal Poly's top 3,000 time in the spring, 10:00.71) and Holli Arrieta (who established a 1,500 PR of 4:30.70), and redshirt freshman Molly Haar (10:06.90 in the 3,000).

Additionally, the women's roster also features a duo coming off track seasons in which they posted top-10 steeplechase times in school history: sophomore Mary Hillis (10:47.65) and junior Annie Whitford (11:02.75).

Five of the 12 incoming freshmen — Melissa Eisele, Mikey Giguere, Logan Marshall, Garrett Migliozzi and James Welsh — are a year removed from finishing from third to 12th at the CIF State Cross Country Championships.

Among others, the talented first-year class also features Dustin Herold (whose 1,600 time of 4:10.29 as a senior was 39th nationally in the prep ranks) and Devon Grove (last year's Washington 2A state cross country champion), as well as Sydney Szabo (who ran a 10:59 in the 3,200) and Ashley Cope (11:01) on the women's side.

The group of newcomers also has a tandem of transfers, juniors Al Gamez and Luis Morales, who were third and fifth at the California two-year college finals (comprised of 104 programs) in 2013.

The first home meet of the year, the Cal Poly Invitational, will be hosted on Oct. 18.

The conference championships (6K and 8K races) in Riverside are scheduled for Nov. 1, two weeks before the West Regional and three weeks ahead of the NCAA Championships.

Cal Poly's men's team also won the Big West title in 2011, and has claimed 13 championships in the past 16 years altogether.

The Mustangs have qualified for the NCAA Championships in 14 different seasons during that span, a stretch highlighted by four top-15 national finishes on a full team basis (with a high of 10th place in 2004).