Cross country tigers gear up for Regionals

Occidental's Cross Country senior team captains and coaches at Jack Kemp Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, Nov 4, 2017. Johnny Franks/Occidental Weekly

The Occidental men’s and women’s cross country teams are off to Pomona College next Saturday, Nov. 11, for the West Regional Championships after both teams placed second in the cross country SCIAC Championships Saturday, Oct. 28 at Prado Park in Chino Hills, Calif. The competition was stiff, and at least three teams present at the meet ranked in the top 25 in the country, according to head coach Rob Bartlett.

Tom Englebert (sophomore, left) and Ethan Heffernan (junior, right) warm up during practice at Jack Kemp Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017. Johnny Franks/Occidental Weekly

The women’s team placed behind Claremont Mudd Scripps, while the men’s team took second to Pomona at the end of the five-mile race.

Bartlett was confident about taking second, with the teams having already raced against some of those present earlier in the season. He also emphasized the effort and exceptional performance of the younger runners on both teams, especially the men’s side, since their top runner, Austin Sankaran (senior), was out with a pulled hamstring.

“To push Pomona would have taken a little miracle, and without Austin, we were going to need a little miracle,” Bartlett said. “But it was a good performance from the guys, particularly some of the younger guys who stepped up.”

Occidental Cross Country will be competing at Pomona College in the Regional Championships in Claremont, on Nov. 11, 2017. Johnny Franks/Occidental Weekly

One of these younger runners was Tristan Santos (junior). Santos finished 10th overall, earning First Team All-SCIAC honors and propelling his team to a second-place finish. Having run the course in Chino Hills before, Santos knew largely how he was going to outpace his opponents.

“Going into it, I knew it was going to be a hard course,” Santos said. “It’s this super marshy, boggy park, with terrible footing, so I knew a lot of people who’d never ran it before were probably going to go out too hard, which is exactly what happened.”

Missing the entire cross country season last year due to a stress fracture, Santos came into this season with redemption and determination at the forefront of his mind. He wants his team to win the regional meet, which, according to Santos, will probably require five runners to finish in the top 15.

The race is eight kilometers, equivalent to nearly five miles. For Santos to perform successfully, he knew he needed to remain calm before and throughout the duration of the race.

“I’m trying to chill out and get relaxed, because you don’t want to blow your adrenaline too early,” Santos said. “You really need to settle in and find your pack, because five miles, it’s a long, grueling race.”

Santos finished the conference race just behind teammate Keenan Leary (senior), who crossed the line fourth. According to Leary, it was the best conference race of his career, a race that felt especially good after placing ninth last year, a result with which he was disappointed.

“This year, I pretty much executed it how I wanted to, exactly how we drew it up as a team,” Leary said. “I beat some people who had beat me like two weeks before, so that was good. I’m looking forward to regionals, it’s going to be a fun day.”

Thomas Robertson (sophomore) warms up before a team run at Jack Kemp Stadium at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017. Johnny Franks/Occidental Weekly

As a senior, Leary has noticed his mindset and approach to racing change over his college career. Like Santos, Leary feels he runs his best when he completely relaxes before a meet.

“I used to have a very different mindset,” Leary said. “Now, I don’t listen to any music before, because I want to be almost zoned out in a way. I want to just approach it like I’m approaching a workout because I found that if I try to get too locked in early on then I really kind of waste mental energy. So I try to be really zen.”

Improving times and rankings over the course of his college career, Leary is excited about racing as a senior. As a top competitor in races, he enjoys the art of long-distance running more than he did as a first year.

“For a while, I was running cross country just kind of in the throng of people, and you got to just focus on passing people the whole time,” Leary said. “There’s a lot more mental preparation that goes into racing at the front, which I think suits me really well. I like those challenges, so yeah, there’s pressure in some ways, but it’s just a hell of a lot more fun.”

Eva Townsend (senior) is the only senior on the women’s team. She finished 20th at the conference meet and looks forward to racing at regionals alongside her teammates.

“To move on from regionals you have to come in third or above, and that’s what we’re going for this year,” Townsend said.

As she reflects on her time running cross country throughout college, Townsend says she will miss running with her team. According to Townsend, traveling abroad in the spring of her junior year made her realize how important her fellow runners were.

“Running with the team — it’s a luxury that I’ll miss a lot. I was abroad last spring, and it’s hard to train by yourself, but I did, just to make sure I was in shape when I got here,” Townsend said. “But it’s different to make yourself do it.”

Looking forward, the team expects to qualify for nationals next weekend at the regional meet. As the stakes increase, nerves also rise. According to Bartlett, there is no reason for the team to succumb to the pressure.

“As the stakes get higher, people put pressure on themselves,” Bartlett said. “I don’t believe pressure exists. I think the people who succeed when the stakes are highest are the ones who believe in themselves and stick with what got them there.”