A year ago, Brigid Stirling wrote a letter to Danny Williams, UC Irvine women’s track and field coach, telling him she was interested in transferring to Irvine. She wanted to compete for the track and cross-country teams.
Stirling, then a standout sophomore distance runner at Claremont-McKenna College, had grown frustrated with what she perceived to be a low level of competition offered at Division III schools.
Although she earned All-American honors in track and cross-country at Claremont, Stirling wanted tougher competition, a stronger team and a new sense of purpose.
She wanted more for her miles.
Even though coaches and teammates at Claremont told Stirling she might not make it at the Division I level, Stirling wanted out.
Vince O’Boyle, Irvine’s cross-country coach, did a little investigating and realized that Stirling might give Irvine a boost.
Since transferring this fall, Stirling has become the Anteaters’ No. 1 runner. She won her first race of the season--5,000 meters at the Riverside Invitational--in a personal-best 17 minutes.
At the Aztec Invitational Sept. 24 in San Diego, Stirling was the top college finisher, placing third (17:06) among 140 runners. She was beaten only by two former college stars--winner Sylvia Mosqueda, the 1988 NCAA 10,000-meter champion from Cal State Los Angeles, and Carol Keller, formerly of Cal State Northridge.
And, at last Saturday’s Stanford Invitational, Stirling stayed with the leaders until 500 meters remained before finishing fourth (17:34).
She has showed she can run with the best of any division.
“Off her (personal records) in track, I thought she’d be one of the top runners on our team,” O’Boyle said. “But (because it’s) a big adjustment going from Division III to Division I, it was tough to say how well she’d really do.
“She’s got her head focused on doing some things at this level. She wants to make it to (NCAA) nationals. She wants to be one of the best. The biggest thing right now is she’s gaining more and more confidence with each race she runs.”
Stirling, a native of Seattle, hopes to continue climbing all the way to the NCAA Cross-Country Championships Nov. 21 at Ames, Iowa.
“The races this year, they’ve all been exciting,” Stirling said. “Before, I never felt like I could compete with the top runners at the bigger invitationals. But now, I know I can run with them.”
In deciding where to transfer last year, Stirling narrowed her choices to Irvine and perennial West Coast power UCLA. She chose Irvine, she said, because the Anteater program had a reputation for developing good runners into great ones.
UCLA has defeated Irvine in each of their three meetings this season, but Stirling hasn’t been beaten yet by a Bruin.
“Division I is definitely tougher,” she said. “But it’s great. Especially (training) with the team. I love being able to go out, run real hard and have a whole pack of girls right with you.
“In high school, I was by myself all the time. At Claremont, it was the same. But here, you have people to push you.”
Both the Anteater men and women finished sixth at Stanford.
The men--led by Pete Vicencio, 21st over 10,000 meters in 32:03--scored 155 points behind Stanford (27), Arizona (98), UCLA (104), USC (126) and California (148).
The women, led by Stirling, scored 141 to trail Arkansas (67), Texas (68), Cal (78), UCLA (88) and Fresno State (136).
O’Boyle said he was somewhat disappointed with the performances. Irvine will aim higher at its next meet, the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Invitational Oct. 15.
The basketball team begins practice Oct. 15 at 12:01 a.m., in the Bren Center. The event, called the Anteater Basketball Bash, is open to the public. The Anteaters will have an intrasquad scrimmage and a dunking contest. The opening act will be The Untouchables, playing in Crawford Hall at 8:30 p.m. Oct. 14. Cost is $5 for UC Irvine students, $8 for the general public.
The water polo team (7-5) moved into sixth place in national rankings this week.
After matches against second-ranked California on Friday night at Berkeley and third-ranked Stanford Saturday at Palo Alto, the Anteaters will return home for their Big West Conference opener against No. 5 Cal State Long Beach on Tuesday.
Junior Tom Warde, a former Marina High standout, leads Irvine this season with 38 goals in 12 games.