UC Merced runners qualify for NAIA championships

slynch@mercedsunstar.comNovember 6, 2012 

Andrew Pierce's run at the Cal Pac Championships was almost over before it started.

The senior went hard with the leaders out of the gate, finishing the first mile in right around six minutes.

According to UC Merced cross country coach Spencer Castro, Pierce went a little too hard. As the Rocklin course turned toward the hills, he began to fade. Eventually, Pierce was caught by his teammates.

"It's not an easy thing to change your pace in the middle of the race," Castro said. "Once his teammates caught him he was able to rest a little bit and regroup.

"Once you've slowed, it's very difficult to pick it back up again, but you have to give Andrew a lot of credit. He didn't panic and managed to salvage the race. It was a really veteran showing."

The Golden Bobcats began gaining on the lead pack down the stretch and Manuel Ortiz (28:54) and Pierce (29:01) finished seventh and eighth, respectively, helping UC Merced to a second-place team showing. It also qualified both runners for the 2012 NAIA National Championships in Vancouver, Wash., on Nov. 17.

The pair will be accompanied by talented freshman Sofia Rios. She led the UCM women's team with a third-place finish (20:25).

"We're really excited, but it wasn't entirely unexpected," Castro said. "We know we have a group of talented runners. It was just a matter of whether they would seize the opportunity."

Hoping to avoid similar issues with the hills at the National Championship course, Castro said the team will take a couple trips to the Mariposa foothills to train.

"The hills have kind of killed us," Castro said. "We just don't have very many of them around here. But we have a couple weeks to try and get ready."

More UC history

The cross country teams aren't the only Golden Bobcats that will be getting their first taste of the postseason.

Both the women's soccer and volleyball teams qualified for the Cal Pac tournaments as No. 4 seeds. They'll be battling it out with an automatic berth into the national tournament up for grabs.

The volleyball team will open up at Menlo College on Thursday night against No. 5 William Jessup. The teams split their season series with both matches going five sets.

The winner likely gets top-seeded Menlo.

The UCM soccer team draws top-seeded Embry-Riddle at 5 p.m. on Friday. The first ever Cal Pac Women's soccer tournament is a four-team field and will be held at Soka University.

The two schools never met in the regular season.

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