RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- Before the season started, Azusa Pacific cross country head coach Preston Grey wanted his team to close the gap on defending Pacific West Conference men’s cross country champion California Baptist while the women’s team pursued a PacWest title defense.
Two weeks into the season, the Cougars responded to Grey’s challenge, finishing ahead of both Lancer teams at Saturday’s UC Riverside Invitational. The Cougars finished eighth overall in the men’s invitational (seventh among four-year schools and third among Division II programs), while the women also notched eighth overall in the women’s invitational (also seventh among four-year schools and second among Division IIs).
“I challenged our guys to close the gap, and to see that happen this early in the season is a big step towards showing we are capable of being in that championship mix,” Grey said. “The challenge now is to develop a pattern of consistent improvement throughout the season. The women’s team still hasn’t run its best race of the year, so their challenge is similar, which is to develop some consistency from race to race.”
Sophomore Aaron Potts posted the highest individual finish for Azusa Pacific, finishing 20th in the 8k invitational with a time of 25:08.5, while junior Kristie Sikma was the women’s 6k invitational leader for the Cougars in 24th overall with a time of 21:43.3.
Junior Peter Buscheck was five spots behind Potts, registering 25:11.2 for 25th overall, as he edged out Bryton Reim – California Baptist’s top finisher – by a margin of 1.1 seconds. Freshman Kyle Bueckert took 30th place (25:26.6), and junior Danny Guerrero (83rd, 26:24.8) and sophomore Ryan Phillips (109th, 26:45.9) rounded out the Cougars’ top-five.
Sophomore Reika Kijima was Azusa Pacific’s second women’s finisher, posting a time of 22:37.3 to finish 49th overall, and freshman Kylie Betts was less than 10 seconds behind Kijima, placing 55th overall with a time of 22:47.2. The remaining four women’s entries all finished between 23:00 and 23:13, and all were within eight places of each other ranging from 66th (junior Elle Farrar) through 73rd (sophomore Christina Russell). Sophomore Natalie Koskela and junior Elizabeth Lyons were within two seconds of each other, with Koskela crossing the line as the Cougars’ fifth overall finisher less than two seconds ahead of Lyons.
Azusa Pacific returns to action in two weeks, when the Cougars meet several of the Midwest's top Division II cross country programs at the Roy Griak Invitational in Minneapolis, Minn., on Saturday, Sept. 28.