Cross Country Takes Another Step in Irvine

With great anticipation for both the men's and women's running programs this year, today's race proved another step for each team in their quest to have a breakout year.

Only two meets into the men's campaign to win a Conference Title, and The Master's men are already making program history. Last week TMC sat out Marathon National Champion Jeff Jackson and All GSAC Anthony Pizzo. With the Mustangs returning both Jackson and Pizzo to competition, the stage was set for a great race this morning at UC Irvine as it would be the first true test of the 2010 season, gauging where The Master's men stack up with the rest of the Nation. Among the field of NCAA division I competition were NAIA distance powerhouses Azusa Pacific University and Cal State San Marcos. Currently ranked 10th in the Nation following preseason ratings, Cal State San Marcos was the team TMC would need to beat in order to break into the top 10 in the National poll.

Making things even more exciting, today's meet was Jackson's first 8k since dropping out of the Fullerton Cross Country Invitational a year ago with what proved to be a season ending injury. Following his National Championship title in the Marathon last spring, Jackson began the 2010 cross country season with a rough start, tearing his quad during summer training. Recovering from injury with truly miraculous speed, Jackson returned to competition today, posting a time of 25:30 on the 8k course.

Anthony Pizzo returned to the line-up as well, after sitting out last weekend due to a minor injury. In his first race of the season, Pizzo demonstrated again why he was the best freshman in the nation in 2009, finishing the race with a time of 25:12.

Even with great performances from Jackson and Pizzo, it was super sophomore John Gilbertson who would lead the Master's squad to make history today. Setting a new all-time school record for 8k, Gilbertson ran a spectacular race from start to finish, completing the course in 24:40. Defeating all of his competition except David Cardona from El Camino, Gilbertson finished 2nd overall in a race stacked with both NCAA division I competition and nationally ranked teams from the NAIA.

In spite of quality races from TMC's 1-3, it was the efforts of the Mustang's 4 & 5 that would determine the outcome of the race. With the goal of taking out nationally ranked Cal State San Marcos, Master's needed two men to race to fill spots 4 & 5; David Eller and Josiah Downer stepped up to complete the score for their team. Finishing with times of 26:49 and 26:51 respectively, Eller and Downer raced tough and did exactly what needed to be done to accomplish the task at hand.

With superb individual performances, The Master's men had a team performance unmatched in school history. Posting the best team time yet to be recorded by TMC (2:09.04), the Mustang men finished 3rd overall out of 19 teams, defeating UCSD, Fresno State, Northridge and Pepperdine, and were bested only by UC Irvine and Cal Poly SLO. Incidentally, the Mustangs also had a faster team time than Cal Poly, who defeated TMC by only 21 points. Most notable however, was the Mustang's victory over NAIA Cal State San Marcos and Azusa Pacific; currently ranked 10th and 23rd nationally. With today's performance, the men should break into the top 10 of next week's national poll and move into first in the GSAC; this would be the highest rating received by TMC Men's Cross Country to date.

With Jackson and Pizzo returning to full health, the Master's men look to be the best team fielded in program history. Get ready for an excited November!

History was also made on the women's side today. Hannah Kellerman of MN set a new 5k school record with a time of 18:35. Finishing 3rd among collegiate competition, Kellerman looked strong and steady throughout the entire race. Hayley Parkinson also ran a great race and finished 11th among collegiate athletes, with a time of 18:59. Until today, Master's had yet to see a member of their women's squad dip under 19:00 for 5k. With Kellerman and Parkinson leading the way, the lady Mustangs would come within seconds of posting the fastest women's team time in school history.

Following up the two leaders, the women's team had great performances by the rest of their teammates. Sarah Pattison competed well, finishing 3rd for the Mustangs, followed by Ayla Draper and Micayla Frankian. Draper and Frankian both set personal records today. Katrina Graham continues to improve, returning from a season ending injury her senior year of high school. Watch for the ladies to set new milestones this season as their squad returns to full health and continues to progress.

View the full men's results here.

View the full women's results here.