Cross Country makes history at Nationals

Mary Devine

Last Saturday Nov. 18, Men's Cross Country competed and made campus history at the National Championships in Louisville, Kentucky. This was the first time that the team was able to qualify for National Championships.

Running at Tom Sawyer State Park, the team ran during during rough weather conditions, but it was nothing they could not handle. According to Coach Greg Phillips, the team is the type to welcome harsh and adverse conditions. "Bring on the hills, rain, mud," he said. "All those adversities are the type of things that are going to slow down those faster runners that other teams have and work things out in our favor. That's what a cross country runner is, and that is the mentality that our team has chosen to adopt."

The top seven of Whittier's Men's Cross Country runners took on the course, finishing 23rd out of the 32 teams that qualified for nationals, making the Poets 23rd out of 400 Division III teams in the nation. 

"It was a very storybook season in terms of how it all went down, where we started at the very bottom and had to work our way all the way to the top," said senior Ruben Solorza. "The belief of getting to nationals was there from the beginning and it just kept growing and growing as the season progressed. I'm very happy for the guys, especially the seniors who get to go out on top like this. Everybody worked hard and they deserved the result tat they got. i'm just really happy for the program. It's a big statement for this program."

Not only did the team succeed as a whole at Nationals, but individuals also reached new heights. Despite the strong winds and the cold Kentucky air that filled the park, sophomore Julian Sandoval completed the race with the second best time in Poet history, finishing with a time of 25:07.

"Well, I feel like with the cold weather, you are able to perform better than in any other weather," said Sandoval. "The conditions [were] almost perfect, despite the wind. I loved it, I just wish we could have continued on and done more out there."

The Men's team wasn't the only star of this important Nationals meet. Though she experienced a small stumble her sophomore year, through hard work and dedication, junior Julissa Tobias was able to pick herself up and come back this season stronger than ever. With the help and support of her teammates and coach, lone Tobias was able to qualify for Nationals as an individual, finishing 83rd out of 208. "I was just thankful for that," said Tobias. "It went really well. I really hoped the girls could have gone as a team, because you know that going with a group of people is even better."

As for the season to come, both the Men's and Women's Cross Country teams and their coaches see a reachable goal in returning to Nationals. "We're going to do our best to keep it going," said Coach Phillips. "It's great when you have a season like this because there's a bit of added momentum. We've also got to look at recruiting and see how us qualifying for finals might help us. Maybe there are some high school runners out there that may be more inclined to check out our school after the men had the season they had."

With not as many graduating for the women's team their prospects for next year are looking very good.

"I think we can make it [to Nationals]," Tobias said in regards to next season. "It takes a lot of dedication and a lot of commitment for a team to go. We can't just have one girl thinking about the goal, but everyone on the team has to be on the same page. I think we have a good chance, if we try really hard."

On the other hand, the Men's team is graduating a majority of their team. Although a little nervous about losing the seniors of the team, Sandoval is ready to take on his new active leadership role in next season's Cross Country team. "I plan to take what he [Solorza] has said and implement it next season and try to be as great of a role model as all the seniors have been this season."

Solorza has no doubt that the team can succeed next season. "They are definitely going to need more bodies out there," said Solorza. "But this year I think the younger guys, like Danny, Jose, Josh, Cameron, Billy, and Julian, all had the same training we did. So as long as they keep that work ethic that they got going, they are going to be fine and they are going to keep building  on the success that they had this year."

As for the memories, which will last beyond college, Solorza recalls a moment in which he recognized just what athletes were experiencing.

"I'll never forget when we got to the race and the girls' race was about to start," he said with a smile. "The guys were there watching, and all their eyes lit up with hoy, when they realized just how big this even was." Both the athletes and coaches felt the significance of this event throughout the weekend.

"You could just see the excitement inall their faces and how proud they were to be there," Solorza said. "I was really happy to see that for them, it was a pretty awesome moment."