EVANSVILLE, Ind. — With temperatures in the low 30s, the conditions for Saturday's NCAA Division II cross-country championships at Oak Meadows Country Club were cool and clear--typical weather for this part of the country.
However, the weather was the only thing typical about the meet for Cal State Northridge as the women's team placed fifth and the men's team placed eighth, their highest finish since 1976 when they took sixth place.
Sophomore Darcy Arreola and freshman George Castro, typically front-runners, produced their best races of the season by running with the pack instead of the early leaders.
Arreola placed fifth in the women's race and Castro placed 26th in the men's race. Both earned All-American honors, which are given to the top 25 Americans in each race. Three of the top six finishers in the men's race were from Kenya.
Arreola, who finished 11th last year, ran what CSUN Coach Don Strametz called "the best race I've ever seen her run" by conceding the race to Sylvia Mosqueda of Cal State Los Angeles and Bente Moe of Norway and Seattle Pacific.
Strametz reckoned that Arreola couldn't match strides with either Mosqueda or Moe, so he instructed her to concentrate on third or fourth place.
With the pressure to lead taken off her shoulders, Arreola was able to relax and responded by defeating several runners who were favored to beat her.
When Mosqueda opened a 30-yard lead on Moe at the one-mile mark, Arreola ran with the trailing pack, among them defending champion Gladees Prieur of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and East regional runner-up Elisa Benzoni of Indiana (Pa.).
"I have a tendency to get uptight when I'm leading," Arreola said. "Today, I just let the others do some of the work."
Pacing herself against Benzoni, Arreola was in fourth place until the final 25 yards when Prieur surged past her.
"I knew two girls were right behind me," Arreola said. "But I couldn't go any faster. I had given it everything in the first three miles."
Arreola was timed in 17 minutes, 37 seconds over the 5,000-meter course. Mosqueda and Moe placed first (16:57) and second (17:21).
Led by Arreola, Northridge runners Heather Houston (40th), Heather Brookes (41st), Tina Cheney (54th) and Tammi McCarty (55th) combined for 141 points. It was the sixth time in the past seven years that Northridge has placed in the top five.
Cal Poly SLO, powered by Prieur, won its sixth consecutive title with 53 points. Cal State L. A. placed second (84) and Mankato State was third (119).
In the men's race, Castro became the first CSUN freshman ever to earn All-American honors in cross-country by using tactics similar to Arreola's.
"I usually go out real hard," Castro said. "My first mile is usually around 4:35 or 4:40. But today, I held back at the start, my first mile was only 4:53."
Castro's strategy paid off. He moved from 41st to 26th in the last two miles.
"I was scared early in the race," he said. "I wasn't used to being that far behind. But I concentrated on the hills. That's where I was passing guys."
Did Castro realize how well he was doing?
"Not until after five miles," he said. "I heard someone yell that if I passed this group of guys I'd be All-American so I went for it."
Castro's time of 31:45 over the 10,000-meter course was his fastest of the year.
Will James (52nd), Derik Vett (55th), Reggie DeChard (70th) and Craig Ingram (81st) rounded out CSUN's scoring (228 points).
Edinboro State won its second consecutive title with 95 points, Mankato State placed second (113) and South Dakota State finished third (116).
There were other surprises Saturday, both good and bad.
The good: Hebert Saravia of UC Riverside, a former standout at Kennedy High, placed 18th (31:29) in the men's race and Gretchen Lohr of CSLA, formerly of Valley College, placed 15th (18:00) in the women's race.
The bad: Benny Cruz of CSLA, a former Burbank High and Valley performer, placed 30th. Cruz, the West regional champion, faded quickly after running with the leaders for the first 2 1/2 miles.
James of Northridge also faded in the second half of the race after being 21st at the three-mile mark. "I could make up all kinds of excuses," he said, "but I just wasn't mentally tough on the hills."