FULLERTON, Calif. (Sept. 10, 2016) – Freshmen Simon Ricci (Chicago, Ill. / Latin School of Chicago) and Sophie Walton (Emerald Hills, Calif. / Sequoia) each set new Caltech cross country program records at the inaugural Biola Invitational on Saturday morning.
Although the course appeared to have been measured a bit short, both rookies turned in unquestionably impressive performances, as Ricci would likely have turned in no worse than the second-quickest time in program history and Walton leaving no doubt as she shattered the previous 5k record by more than a minute, even bettering the track & field 5k record. Ricci keyed the men's team to a sixth-place finish among the 12 teams in the race, while Walton led the women's side to 10th place among 15 teams, including defeating a pair of SCIAC foes for the first time in five years.
"Our depth was on display again today," Head Coach Ben Raphelson said. "In cross country, finishing times are always secondary to finishing place. The times were exciting to see, but we're drawing more encouragement from how we fared relative to some familiar opponents. Things are progressing well."
Covering the mix of rolling hills, pavement and even the odd wood bridge, both teams entered their second weekend of competition with a carefully crafted plan and executed to near perfection. The men's team jumped right from the season-opening 6k distance to the full race length of eight kilometers, while the women took a slight step up from the 4.5k Redlands Invitational to 5k, with their first 6k of the season set for the SCIAC Multi-Duals in three weeks.
Ricci was the top-finishing rookie among Division III runners, clocking a 25:30.44 to beat out two-time NCAA qualifier Aditya Bhagavathi's 2014 program record. Fellow freshman Greg Gephart (Reno, Nev. / Robert McQueen) also turned in a phenomenal performance, crossing the finish line in the fourth-fastest time in program history, while sophomore Rohan Choudhury (Cupertino, Calif. / Monta Vista) improved from his position in 15th on the all-time list to sixth. With the team again focusing on a conservative start to the race, nearly every Beaver ran within five seconds of last week's mile pace, with freshman Sam Blazes (Seattle, Wash. / Sidwell Friends) even pacing a second per mile quicker.
"I was excited with the way the men executed the race plan," Raphelson said. "They did that well last week, but the added challenge for this week was the two extra kilometers and a much larger field. They really kept their composure and closed well over the final miles; seeing that and their overall placement was more exciting than their final times."
Walton reached the finish a full minute and 21 seconds faster than the previous Caltech 5k record, also finishing first among Division III freshmen and third among all Division III runners with a 17:48.36. Sophomore Melissa Gutierrez (Pico Rivera, Calif. / El Rancho) cracked the top-15 list with the third-fastest time in program history, while classmate Cherie Jia (Auckland, New Zealand / Auckland Int'l Coll.) claimed the fifth-quickest time in just her second competitive race at any level thanks to shaving the most time off her mile pace from last week of any Beaver.
"We were pleased with how last weekend went, but we wanted to refine a few things in terms of our overall execution," Raphelson said. "The highlight of the weekend was how our women finished relative to the other SCIAC schools. They've been working hard and were justifiably proud of the team result. I felt we paced today more appropriately and looked really strong in the latter stages of the race – that bodes well going forward."
Raphelson and the Beavers will take three weeks off from competition to train for the SCIAC Multi-Duals on Oct. 1, which once again will take place at La Mirada Park.