In 2019, the Gonzaga men’s cross-country team had come off their best finish in program history at the NCAA West Regional Meet placing sixth as a team and likely secured an at-large bid to the national meet for the first time in program history.
When the selection show rolled around the following Sunday, the Bulldogs didn’t see their name called out and were left home disappointed.
16 months and week and half later after placing second as a team at the West Coast Conference Cross Country Championships, the men were sitting in the locker room once again awaiting the announcement of who would compete at nationals.
This time around, the name “Gonzaga” appeared on the list.
For the first time in program history, the men’s cross country team will be one of 31 schools competing in the 2020-2021 NCAA Cross Country National Championship Meet being held in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
There wasn’t any doubt the men would secure a team birth given they had knocked off the No. 8 ranked Portland Pilots at the time and competed with the No. 1 ranked BYU Cougars at the WCC’s, but redshirt senior Peter Hogan compared the moments of waiting for their named to be called like it was an expected gift.
“It was kind of like opening a present you know you were going to get like a pair of shoes for Christmas,” Hogan said. “You know it’s coming, but at the same time there’s a lot of gratitude and you’re happy it finally came.”
When Pat Tyson took over the role of Director of Cross Country/Track and Field position 13 years ago, many had questioned as to whether this would be the dead end of his career given where the program was at during the time.
“I’m glad I’m a patient person,” Tyson said. “This 13-year wait is almost like a relief and it’s exciting for everyone, especially for those who competed 34 years ago and to those who are currently on the team.”
Tyson hasn’t been the only patient person in the program. Hogan has been waiting for his opportunity to make his mark at the national level the last five years.
Hogan placed 15th at the west regional meet last season but wasn’t able to qualify as an individual for the national meet due to faster performances from other regional meets.
“It would have been nice to go as an individual last year with James (Mwaura), but I just like cross-country because it’s a team sport,” Hogan said. “The individual piece wasn’t a huge disappointment for me, but to know your hard work and your teammates hard work as finally paid off the last 15 months is very cool. Having eight guys going will be a lot of fun.”
Athletes expected to compete along side Hogan are junior James Mwaura, redshirt juniors Dominic Arce, Yacine Guermali, and Cullen McEachren, redshirt freshman Evan Bates, and freshman Wil Smith. Redshirt senior Jake Perrin will be traveling as an alternate.
Junior Kristen Garcia was the lone athlete from the women’s team to qualify as an at-large individual after placing 12th at WCC’s and earning all-conference honors.
Garcia will be the first athlete in the Jake Stewart coaching era to qualify for the national meet since taking over the women’s cross country head coaching duties in 2018.
“This means the world to Kristen,” Stewart said. “We went into WCC’s knowing what the expectations were to make it to the national meet and coming out of it she didn’t know if it would have been enough. But when she found out she was thrilled.”
Both Garcia and Stewart did not tune into the selection show to see her named pop up on the individual list, but once Stewart found out from the text messages from various people that Garcia had made it, he called her to relay the news.
“When Stew called me, my immediate reaction was, ‘Oh man, I’m in trouble,’” Garcia said. “I was laying in bed on my off day and wasn’t even tuned into the show, so when he told me I qualified for nationals, I was in disbelief.”
This won’t be Garcia’s first time competing at the national meet as she was the sixth and seventh runner her freshman and sophomore year for Wisconsin’s teams in 2018 and 2019, but it’s a first to qualify as an individual.
“I never felt like I could contribute to those Wisconsin teams,” Garcia said. “This year going as an individual, I feel like this helps the team move forward in a positive direction in hopes of qualifying as a group for nationals. We’ve all had great individual performances, so the mentality for next year is ‘Why not us?’”.
Garcia and the men’s team are set to compete on Monday, March 15, at the OSU Cross Country Course on the campus of Oklahoma State University. The women’s race goes off at 9:50 a.m. pst, followed by the men’s race 10:40 a.m. Both races to air on ESPNU.