PASADENA, Calif. (Feb. 16, 2017) – The addition of perhaps the deepest and most talented recruiting class in program history has Caltech track & field in perfect position to build off the success of 2016 and begin its ascent up the conference ladder.
"This is the largest roster we've had in a long time, and there's a ton of young talent," Head Coach Ben Raphelson said. "For the second year in a row, we've graduated all our individual point scorers from the conference championship, but once again we have scholar-athletes determined to step up and make an impact at the conference-level."
In his third year at Caltech, Raphelson is once again joined on staff by Caleb Weidert (ninth year) and welcomes William Murray for his first year as an assistant coach.
With the recent success of both cross country programs, it should come as no surprise that the track & field team's strength is its deep and talented but young core of distance runners. After a successful rookie season in which he cracked two program top-10 all-time lists, sophomore Rohan Choudhury (Cupertino, Calif. / Monta Vista) leads the group. He is the only returning male Beaver ranked among the top 10 in any event, slotting at seventh in both the 3000-meter run and the 5000m.
"Rohan is the voice of a young and potent group that has a nice blend of talent and work ethic," Raphelson said. "We're expecting the freshmen to apply the lessons they learned during this past cross country season on adjusting to training and racing at the college level. If done successfully, they should develop into important point scorers for the team."
Joining Choudhury in the long-distance events will be a quartet of freshman men in Sam Blazes (Seattle, Wash. / Sidwell Friends), Bhairav Chidambaram (San Diego, Calif. / Canyon Crest Acad.), Greg Gephart (Reno, Nev. / Robert McQueen) and Nikhil Poole (Arcadia, Calif. / Flintridge Prep) as well as sophomores Michael Hashe (Plano, Texas / Texas Acad. of Math & Science) and Joey Hong (Campbell, Calif. / King's Acad.), with sophomore Melissa Gutierrez (Pico Rivera, Calif. / El Rancho) and freshmen Jena Srikanth (Fresno, Calif. / Clovis North) and Skye Reese (Concord, N.H. / Concord) pacing the women's team. Poole and Srikanth are both eager to contribute after injury-marred fall campaigns; Poole placed first overall in the season-opening Redlands Invitational before missing the remainder of the fall with an injury, while Srikanth had to overcome a pre-existing injury before featuring in the final three races as the Beavers' No. 2. Gephart and Blazes, meanwhile, both established themselves as mainstays in the varsity cross country line-up. Gutierrez built off a solid rookie campaign in 2015 with a 21-spot improvement at this year's West Regional and will look to carry that momentum into her first track & field season.
"It's great to welcome Melissa in the spring after strong cross country performances in her first two years," Raphelson said. "Nikhil and Jena were both high-level performers in high school and now that they're 100 percent healthy, they have a chance to make an impact right away."
The squad's depth continues to shine in the mid-distance events, where sophomore Michelle Marasigan (Elk Grove Village, Ill. / James B. Conant) comes off a season where she cracked three top-10 lists as a rookie, ranking seventh all-time in the 3000-meter steeplechase and ninth in both the 800m and 3000m. Her male counterparts are rookies Simon Ricci (Chicago, Ill. / Latin School of Chicago) and Tommy Alford (Dublin, Ohio / Dublin Coffman), who boast strong track résumés and are eager to build off their fall success. Ricci was an All-State performer in high school while Alford was a member of the indoor National Champion 4x800m relay. They'll team with experience veterans in sophomore Rohan Doshi (West Windsor, N.J. / West Windsor-Plainsboro North), junior Gene Vaughan (Mission, Texas / Sharyland) and co-captain Chris Haack (New York, N.Y. / The Browning School). Important contributions also likely will come from freshmen Tiger Lu (Shanghai, China / Shanghai American School Puxi), Tanner Moore (Roseville, Calif. / Oakmont) and Gianmarco Terrones (McLean, Va. / The Potomac School) for the men and Maria De Angelis (Santa Barbara Calif. / Santa Barbara Senior) and Nicole Feng (Bethany, Conn. / Amity Regional) for the women.
"This is another large group that ran well during cross country but is really excited to compete in events they consider to be more in line with their strengths." Raphelson said. "Simon and Tommy bring solid high school credentials, while Michelle, with a healthy year of training, has the ability to qualify for the finals at the SCIAC Championships for the first time. Our sophomores showed last year that the fall can be a valuable adjustment period that leads to a highly successful track & field season. If the freshmen of this group follow a similar improvement curve, it could be a special season. It's the deepest mid-distance core we've had in a few years, and they're itching to get onto the track."
Sprints & Jumps
The sprints will be contested mostly by familiar faces. Senior captain Lucy Chen (Boonton Township, N.J. / Mountain Lakes) will compete in her final season of collegiate eligibility beside newcomer Alison Lui (Osprey, Fla. / Pine View) for the women's team, while returners Alexander Bourzutschky (Potomac, Md. / Montgomery Blair), Ben Calvin (Shawnee, Kan. / Shawnee Mission Northwest) and Teddy Hu (Qingdao, China / Qingdao No. 2) will be joined by high school standout Jesse Cai (McLean, Va. / Thomas Jefferson Science & Tech) and newcomers Damien Bérubé (Montreal, Canada / John Abbott Coll.) and men's soccer rookie Alex Lettenberger (Chicago, Ill. / Glenbard West).
Where Chen shines most, however, is in the jumps, and she will be looking to improve on her No. 5 all-time ranking in the triple jump and No. 10 status in the long jump. Bérubé, Bourzutschky, Lettenberger and Lui will also compete in the pole vault.
"Based on the first few weeks, Lucy has shown she's much improved, and that's going to translate well into her sprinting and especially in her jumping," Raphelson said. "Jesse is a tremendously dedicated scholar-athlete who is eager to do everything he has to in order to be a successful collegiate sprinter. Ben and Teddy will be in position to take the next steps in their events, while Alex B and Alison will also be mainstays in the sprints and compete among one of our deepest pole vault groups in history. We're excited about the versatility of this group – they'll be able to compete in a range of events."
Finally, a young quartet of throwers may already be prepared to emerge as a force in the conference. Sophomore Muskaan Goyal (Apple Valley, Minn. / Eastview) is the only non-rookie of the group, but freshmen Timofey Krasnoperov (Pasadena, Calif. / Polytechnic) and Alexa Lauinger (Ortonville, Mich. / Brandon) boast considerable high school experience and junior Zane Murphy (Kennett Square, Pa. / Tampa Prep) has displayed an early aptitude for the discipline. Both Krasnoperov and Lauinger should begin an immediate assault on the top-10 lists in multiple events, while Goyal and Murphy both look to be important point scorers in SCIAC competition.
"Muskaan was very dedicated in the offseason and is now a full-time thrower after splitting time with the sprints group last year; that sharpened focus is already paying off," Raphelson said. "Tim is a true student of the sport and his passion for the throwing events is contagious. I know he's eager to break into the top tier of throwers within the conference and region."
The Beavers open the season on Saturday, Feb. 18 at the Pomona-Pitzer All-Comers Meet, with the first SCIAC Multi-Dual scheduled for Saturday, Mar. 4 at the University of La Verne.
"As always, our aim is to make consistent improvement each competition with the goal of being at our best come the SCIAC Championships in late April," Raphelson said. "Each year the team has done more – more quality offseason work, more marks on the all-time lists and more dual meet wins. Our goal is to continue that trajectory and we have the right mix of people to do just that."