At this moment in time, for athletes and fans alike, sports are waiting games.
Fans bide for any news of sporting events starting back up. They wait expectantly to hear news of athlete transfers or new recruits who might make the eventual resumption of sports even more exciting. Athletes hope to hear when they’ll be able to compete again, and train hard in hopes that their seasons will return to normal next year.
For fans of Cal’s cross-country team, here’s some news that might make this waiting game a little less painful: Four athletes from the nationally ranked cross-country teams of Great Oak High School in Temecula, California, have signed with the Bears.
Signing four runners from a top running school like Great Oak is a recruiting win for the Cal men’s and women’s teams, and one that doesn’t happen every year. The combination of Bears’ head coach Bobby Lockhart’s upward trajectory and the addition of these particular athletes could help make Cal cross-country a more competitive Pac-12 program.
The commits are significant for the men’s squad especially — Cal’s men’s cross-country team spent the 2019 season in a building phase after its top six runners graduated the year before. The addition of three competitive male runners from Great Oak will strengthen its roster and add more depth to the program.
This past season, the Great Oak boys cross-country team placed second at the Nike Cross Nationals by a narrow margin of 4 points. Coming so close to victory only to be the official runner-up was disheartening for the team, but especially disappointing for the graduating seniors.
“I always tell the kids, running is tough because you get one shot and then you have to wait 365 days until you can try again,” said Doug Soles, accomplished head coach of both cross-country squads at Great Oak.
Some of the younger runners will get another shot at the same nationals course in the future, but for four of the varsity seniors from Great Oak, their chance to win big will come next season when they join Lockhart’s team at Cal.
Here are the four runners from Great Oak who tote promise and a wealth of experience as Cal commits:
Arianna Griffiths was convinced to sign with Cal after her official visit to campus. Her former teammate from Great Oak, Fatima Cortes, committed to the Bears the year before and has competed in several invitationals with the blue and gold as a freshman.
“It will be great to be able to be her teammate again,” Griffiths said. “I stayed with her in her dorm on my visit and she helped me learn about what the school was like, and I knew that since we had pretty similar experiences, I could trust what she was saying about the program.”
Griffiths has a 3-mile career best of 16:27, an impressive time that she notched at the Woodbridge Cross Country Classic in 2018. Her four years of running at Great Oak have given her the experience of competing in 39 races.
“Great Oak has prepared me because it’s a big team, and there’s a lot of talent and it’s really competitive already.” Griffiths said. “I’m sure a college environment will be somewhat similar to that.”
One of the reasons Aric Reza chose to sign with the Bears was the strong academics the school offers — Reza plans on majoring in material science at UC Berkeley, and possibly double majoring in mechanical engineering.
“All four of those kids are super, super smart; when you’re really smart like that, your choices are limited,” Soles said. “They wanted to go to a school that would challenge them academically.”
Reza started his sophomore year ranked 16th on the team and ended his senior year ranked third. Over his four years of running, he shaved multiple minutes off his time, which eventually granted him the opportunity to run with the Bears.
Reza competed with the two other boys now committed to Cal from Great Oak at the Nike Cross Nationals, and he expects their experience as teammates to contribute to the Bears next year.
“It can only make the community that’s already there even stronger. We’re all going to be a really tight family — we have been at Great Oak, and it will only get better,” Reza said. “I would not be surprised to see more teammates from the next few classes become my teammates again.”
Cole Sawires Yager
Cole Sawires Yager transferred to Great Oak his junior year and competed in a total of 19 races with the team. He boasts a 3-mile career best of 14:45, which he ran at the Woodbridge Cross Country Classic his senior year.
Like Reza, Sawires Yager ran on the boys Nike Cross Nationals team and will bring his experience competing on the national level to Cal.
Gabriel Abbes has been with Great Oak for four years, ranking fifth on the team his freshman year and standing at first on the team both his junior and senior years. Abbes has a 3-mile career best of 14:18 and placed eighth at the 2019 CIF State Cross Country Championships out of 178 varsity runners.
As the best runner on the Great Oak boys team and one of the top 10 runners in California, Abbes will bring leadership, fast times and considerable experience to the Bears.
If the 2020 cross-country season continues as planned, these four runners will have a chance to prove themselves on the collegiate level.
Until then, all that’s left to do is wait.
Mia Horne is the deputy sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].