The Occidental men’s and women’s cross country teams were able to find their footing on a difficult soggy Prado Park course during Saturday’s SCIAC Championship meet in Chino Hills, as both teams finished in the top half of the field.
In the weeks leading up to the championship meet, the Tigers focused on the mental aspect of running to help them keep their composure.
“Because Prado Park is a difficult course with rolling hills and poor footing, we made a concentrated effort to keep a positive mental attitude throughout the race,” runner Tommy Warfel (senior) said via email. “Courses like this can make racing difficult because they prevent you from developing a good rhythm.”
Despite the rolling hills and a large puddle slowing down runners, Warfel and a host of sophomores thrived in the unfavorable conditions, pushing the men to a third place finish in the men’s meet and a third place finish in the overall SCIAC standings.
Leading the trio of young Tiger speedsters was Austin Sankaran (sophomore), who was the second Tiger to complete the course, placing 17th overall with a time of 26:45.58. Sankaran’s placement in the top 20 was also enough to earn him a Second Team All-SCIAC selection. Close on Sankaran’s heels were classmates Keenan Leary (sophomore) and Jovani Barajas (sophomore), who both placed in the top 30 with times just over 27 minutes.
But while the sophomore’s performances were impressive, it was Warfel who had the race of the day for the Tigers.
Running in his SCIAC swan song, Warfel acted as the trailblazer for the Occidental squad, crossing the eight-kilometer finish line in sixth place overall with a time of 26:14.06. His performance marked a solid improvement from the SCIAC Multi Dual meet Oct. 17, as he shaved five seconds off of his time and finished one spot higher. Additionally, Warfel’s placement within the top 10 earned him a place on the First Team All-SCIAC team.
“Tommy ran the best race of his life, and to have that happen at the last conference meet is a dream scenario,” head coach Rob Bartlett said. “He is going to have some great memories to show for all the hard work he has put in.”
On the women’s side, it was Roxanne Valle (first-year) who led the way for the Tigers, earning a 12th place finish by completing the six-kilometer race in 24:06.31, despite battling an illness all week. In addition to setting the pace for Occidental, Valle’s gritty performance was also good enough to earn her a Second Team All-SCIAC selection.
“I got sick during the week and found it difficult to practice,” Valle said via email. “The day of the race I just knew I had to give it my all and stay mentally strong.”
Aside from Valle, Occidental received solid performances from Eva Townsend (sophomore) and Aria Blumm (sophomore). Both also posted sub-25 minute times, and had individual finishes of 20th and 21st, respectively. Rounding out the top five for Occidental were Mel Devoney* (junior), who finished 32nd overall with a time of 25:10.66, and Natalie Gradwohl (first-year), who finished 44th with a time of 25:34.04.
Overall, the women captured a fourth-place finish at the championship meet and finished fourth in the overall SCIAC standings.
“What is exciting is that we had four first years in our top seven and three in our top five, and we will have everyone on our roster back next year,” Bartlett said. “It is a young team that will only continue to develop.”
The next meet for the Occidental men’s and women’s cross country teams will be the NCAA West Region Championship race Nov. 14 at the Pomona-Pitzer course. There, both the men’s and women’s teams will attempt to qualify for nationals by placing within the top three.
*Devoney is a Weekly staff member.