The home-course advantage may or may not be much of a factor in cross-country, but UC Irvine's women's team is hoping its fifth trip around the route today at Central Park will end in its 10th Big West Conference championship.
"We've run it four times this year and I think it gives us a little bit of help," Coach Vince O'Boyle said. "But we've beaten everyone in the conference already this season except Hawaii, who we haven't met, and this is the best team we've had here in three or four years.
"So, if we run the way we can, then we should win it. If we fall apart, then we'll take the same lumps we have the past two years."
The Anteater women have won nine titles in the 12 years of conference competition, but UC Santa Barbara has won the last two. Irvine, however, returns three of last year's top 10 finishers. Senior Jo-Jo Yaba was second, junior Laura Monson finished fifth and sophomore Kay Nekota was 10th.
Santa Barbara's Eliza Alexander, who finished seventh last year, is the only other top-10 finisher who will be competing again this year.
"It's strictly a matter of confidence for us," O'Boyle said. "If they just do what they've done all year long, race the way they've been racing together as a team, we should win.
"Our Nos. 1 through 7 runners have been very, very close."
The men's race figures to come down to a battle between three-time defending champion Utah State and Santa Barbara, with the edge going to the Gauchos, who have beaten Utah State twice this year.
O'Boyle says a "total team effort" could propel the Irvine men into third place. Senior Bryan Contreras, who finished fifth last year, is the Anteaters' best hope for an individual champion.
Santa Barbara's Dave Cullum, who was second last year, should battle Utah State's Toby Conley (third in '94) and Frank Torres (fourth) for the individual title. Huntington Beach's Ben Flamm, a transfer from Wisconsin, could also be a factor for Santa Barbara.
The women's 5,000-meter event is scheduled for 12:45 after the men's 8,000-meter race, which begins at noon on a course that winds through the park and adjacent dirt trails that used to be oil fields.
"It's a neat, interesting course," Monson said, "and hopefully we'll strike it rich."