Chris Frias knew his goal and had a good idea what result it would take to accomplish it, but he wasn’t entirely sure what his body was capable of until he pushed it harder than he ever had before.
The Cal Poly senior men’s cross country runner won an at-large berth to Saturday’s NCAA Championships at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center in Terre Haute, Ind., with a top-10 finish in last week’s NCAA West Regional in Sacramento.
He figured if the Mustangs were unable to move on to the national meet as a team as they had his sophomore year in 2011, he would need to stay among the race leaders to make it as an individual.
As it turned out, the cutoff ended at 10th place, and Frias finished the 10K course at Haggin Oaks Golf Club ninth in 29 minutes 55.27 seconds.
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Frias was just 0.09 seconds ahead of 10th-place finisher Chris Enriquez of Long Beach State and 1.23 seconds ahead of San Francisco’s Eric Causey in 11th.
Mustangs head coach Mark Conover “was telling me we have nothing to lose,” Frias said. “We’re the team that upsets other teams and gets NCAA spots that they’re supposed to get.
“Once I got in that main pack, I just hung on for dear life, and they just pulled me through out.”
The two-time Big West Conference individual champion becomes the first Cal Poly man to individually qualify for the NCAA Championships since Joe Gatel in 2009.
Mustangs sophomore Laura Hollander will make her second straight appearance in the women’s race after she placed seventh at the West Regional, finishing the 6K course in 19:37. One of the national title contenders last season, Hollander earned All-America status with a ninth-place finish in the 2012 NCAA Championships.
She has been injured for much of this year but came on strong at the end of the regular season and repeated as the Big West champion.
The women’s race is scheduled to begin at 10:15, following the men, who start their race at 9 a.m. Both will be streamed live online at NCAA.com.
Though Indiana State has hosted the NCAA Championships nine times in the past 11 seasons, Hollander’s All-America finish came at E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Ky.
Frias has run the Terre Haute course three times — twice at regular-season Pre National events and once as a member of the Mustangs team that made the NCAA Championships in 2011.
This upcoming appearance, however, will hold the most meaning for him.
“The last time we made it, I was the sixth guy coming in,” Frias said. “I wasn’t really contributing in my eyes as far as our score went. This time, I put myself out on the front, and I feel like I really had to work for it this time.”
Frias was consistently among the top two Cal Poly men at every event this season. He started the year leading the team, but an impressive midseason run by fellow senior Sean Davidson saw the duo split the team’s top honors over the course of the year.
Davidson was fourth at the Cal Poly-hosted Big West Championships at Fairbanks Cross Country Course, and placed 25th at the West Regional.
“He was easily my competition out of the whole Big West Conference,” Frias said, “and I’m just glad having someone to train with like that. ... It’s a healthy competition. I wanted him to do well. I wanted to do well, too. That helped us feed off each other, and we really just improved throughout the year.”