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Cal Poly Men 3-Peat at Championships; Mustang Women Retake Trophy

Cal Poly Men 3-Peat at Championships; Mustang Women Retake Trophy

Ritter, Daschian Sweep Individual Conference Titles with Course-Record Performances

BREA, Calif. — Cal Poly swept the Big West Cross Country Championships on Saturday morning, as the Mustang men's squad started the meet by claiming their third consecutive team trophy before the women's team followed by recapturing the conference crown, their third in a four-year stretch.

The men won with a score of 32 points at Carbon Canyon Regional Park — 37 up on second-place UC Santa Barbara — while the women out-dueled hosting Cal State Fullerton 33-39.

In addition to the team trophies, Cal Poly also won both individual conference titles thanks to Jake Ritter and Miranda Daschian.

"Overall great day for the program," said Mark Conover, Cal Poly director of track & field and cross country. "There was some real gutsy racing out there, running with full commitment, Mustang pride and representing themselves, Cal Poly and all of our alums who've been in the program, so well."

It's the eighth occurrence of a men's three-peat in conference history, including the fourth for Cal Poly (with the others authored by squads from 1998-00, 2003-09 and 2011-13).

"It's something that's never easy," Conover said. "These student-athletes just ran with commitment. I'm proud of the entire team. Just a great day for the program. They ran determined and really want to keep progressing."

Starting the 8k from Box 5, Ritter took off and led from the gun the whole way. A sophomore from Citrus Heights, Ritter won his medal in 24:27.5, besting Gaucho rival Daniel Mountcastle by 11.6 seconds at the front.

"It was a very inspiring race for Jake that resulted in a course record," Conover said. "People have been running this course for a number of years, so I'm super-proud of Jake and the entire team."

Supporting Ritter's individual title, the Mustangs displayed their depth, as the next eight competitors all placed within the top 18. Peter Cotsirilos, a senior making his fourth career appearance at the finals, came in fifth place with a performance of 24:42.4, followed by junior Evan Jameson in seventh at 24:49.1.

Making his debut at the meet, redshirt freshman Benjamin Holland crossed next with a ninth-place time of 24:52.7, while senior Logan Marshall (24:55.2) and junior Alex Merder (24:57.3) followed in 10th & 11th.

Sean McDermott was close behind in 13th at 25:03.2, with fellow senior Mikey Giguere 15th in 25:16.1 and redshirt freshman Cameron Botten 18th at 25:25.3.

In the ensuing 6k, Daschian — a junior from Atascadero via Cuesta College — edged Titan junior Samantha Huerta by 3.4 seconds for first place, winning in 21:23.1 to break the course record.

"When Miranda toed that line she had that look in her eyes," said Priscilla Bayley, head coach of the Mustang women's team, of Daschian, the runner-up a year ago. "I felt very confident about the kind of race she'd bring forward, and she showed that out on the course today."

Cal Poly, assigned to Box 3, placed two more student-athletes in the top five, as Katie Izzo was just two-tenths of a second behind Huerta, and fellow junior Peyton Bilo also returned to the championships with a fourth-place 21:41.5.

"The strategy was to run with the people we wanted to run with and really get going once we got to the 2-mile mark," Bayley said. "We knew that it was going to be a pretty close race up front just with how the conference is made up, and the women executed great: They all ran where they needed to run with a clear plan and vision going in, and they made it happen."

Sophomore Sierra Brill (22:16.1) and senior Maddie McDonald (22:18.2) were next in 12th & 13th place, and junior Delaney Fitzsimmons clocked a 22:34.1 for 15th place.

Annie Meeder rounded out Cal Poly's scoring, as the sophomore recorded an 18th-place 22:38.7, and redshirt sophomore Melodie Leroudier also placed in the top 30, finishing 28th in 22:58.4.

The Mustangs overcame a few unexpected hurdles to take the win, including sophomore Abbey Fisk going down late in the race as well as Bilo being stung by a bee at her Achilles just before the meet.

"We had a lot of things go wrong but none of it shook them," Bayley said. "They wanted it so bad, they just weren't going to let anyone take it from them. We're overjoyed and excited and are looking forward to regionals. We've been building this momentum all season, and it's another step forward for this season. We're ready for another race."

Fisk, Bayley added, was "very much part of our success today and she'll be back ready to go for regionals."

On the day, Cal Poly surpassed the all-time combined total of 50 conference championships for cross country. The men's was the 50th, with the women's moving it to 51. Between both squads, 23 of the 51 have come in the Big West.

The pair of individual conference titles for Ritter and Daschian were also the program's 37th and 38th all-time, including now 15 in the Big West.

Cal Poly will next prepare for the NCAA West Regional Championships. Haggin Oaks Golf Course in Sacramento will host the next stop of the postseason, scheduled for Friday, Nov. 9 beginning at 11 a.m.

Photos © John Fajardo