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SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Having won a combined 46 team conference championships all-time, the Cal Poly cross country program will begin its quest for two more by starting the 2016 season Saturday morning.
The Mustangs will commence the fall at UC Santa Barbara's Lagoon Open, beginning behind the Gauchos' University Center at 11 a.m.
Twelve student-athletes who ran at last year's Big West Conference Championships are back: seniors Ashley Windsor and Mary Jo Wright, junior Sydney Szabo and sophomores Peyton Bilo, Katie Izzo and Hannah Hull on the women's side, and seniors Nick Woolf, Swarnjit Boyal and David Galvez, along with sophomores Garrett Migliozzi, Devon Grove and Peter Cotsirilos on the men's side.
Additionally, junior Clayton Hutchins and senior Dimitri Voytilla are also back to lead the men's squad after redshirting last fall, while senior Kylie Nishisaka and junior Molly Haar also bring conference championship experience from previous seasons back for the women's team.
The returnees are joined by a class of 12 true freshmen, several of whom followed their respective high school state championship meets by running at the Nike Cross Nationals.
Last fall, the Cal Poly women won the conference championship with a score of 39 — 20 points ahead of UCSB (the team's largest championship margin of victory since 2001).
Bilo was the individual conference runner-up with a 6K time of 20 minutes, 36.87 seconds, while Izzo (20:59.84), Windsor (21:00.87) and Wright (21:07.33) combined to sweep spots 9 through 11 and Szabo (21:19.69) and Hull (21:37.49) added 17th- and 23rd-place finishes to tally the historic score.
Bilo led Cal Poly at the final five meets in 2015, earning USTFCCCA All-Regional honors with her 12th-place finish in Seattle before making her NCAA Championships debut at Louisville in 21:20.9 (172nd place; 24th among the 49 freshmen at the meet).
Bilo (in the 10,000 meters) and Izzo (5,000m) each also won individual conference championships in track this past spring. Windsor, the Big West Cross Country Freshman of the Year in 2013, also was a second-team All-American in track in 2015 for the 1,500m, while Haar (now a junior in cross country) is another former track conference champion, having won the 5,000m title in 2015.
The Mustang men also bettered their championship score from 2014 (by 13 points), finishing a close second to the Gauchos (31 to 36, as the Blue-Green Rivals were 71 points up on the rest of the conference).
Similar to the women's squad, nearly all of the men's team is back as well.
Woolf led the way with a fourth-place championship 8K last fall (24:17.04), followed by Migliozzi (sixth at 24:25.50 en route to the Big West Freshman of the Year award), Grove (seventh, 24:27.34) and Boyal (eighth, 24:28.27) all in the top 10. Cotsirilos (18th at 24:59.47) and Galvez (23rd, 25:14.60) also added top-25 depth.
Boyal paced the Mustangs at each of the first four meets last fall, including a win at the Fresno State Invitational, and was named the Big West Male Runner of the Week on Sept. 29.
Hutchins led Cal Poly at three meets in 2014, including winning the WCC Preview in Sunnyvale with an 8K of 24:19.3. He closed this past track season competing in his first Canadian Olympic Trials for the 5,000 meters.
Voytilla, meanwhile, is also back for the start of the season after an eighth-place conference-championship performance in 2014 and a 14th-place championship contribution in 2013. He clocked a 10K of 34:29.7 at the NCAA West Regional meet a year ago.
Woolf is coming off a spring in which he, too, won conference track championships — in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and 5,000m, culminating his collegiate track career with five Big West titles.
Cal Poly is led by 14-time Big West Coach of the Year Mark Conover and assistant coach Priscilla Bayley.
In addition to the 46 team conference championships since 1969, the program has recently won a combined 11 Big West individual titles and produced seven Division I All-Americans. Altogether whether individually or on a team basis, Cal Poly has been represented at the NCAA Championships in 16 out of 21 seasons since 1995, and 41 different Mustangs have raced in at least one Division I national championships meet.
Both squads were ranked in Monday's preseason USTFCCCA regional polls, with the women at No. 9 and the men No. 10.
The season-opening meet in Isla Vista will be followed by the UC Riverside Invitational on Sept. 17, the Stanford Invitational on Oct. 1 and then two events on Oct. 15 (the Cal Poly Invitational at Fairbanks Memorial Cross Country Course and the Adidas Pre-Nationals Invite at Indiana State), leading up to the Big West Championships, which Hawai'i will host in Kahuku on Oct. 29.
The postseason will advance with the West Regional qualifier in Sacramento on Nov. 11 (the only Friday on the schedule), before the NCAA Championships back in Indiana (site of the Pre-Nationals) on Nov. 19.
Cal Poly Cross Country Set to Open 2016 Season at UCSB on Saturday
SCHEDULE • ROSTER • 2015 TIMES • RANKINGS