CHINO, Calif. (Oct. 29, 2016) – Freshman Sophie Walton (Emerald Hills, Calif. / Sequoia) earned First Team All-SCIAC honors as the Caltech men's and women's cross country teams each placed sixth at the SCIAC Championships on Saturday morning.
Walton placed sixth overall and ahead of every other rookie in the women's field in leading the Beavers to a one-place improvement on their finish at the Multi-Duals last month. Her finish marked the best individual performance by a female Caltech runner since Cailin Henderson won the title in 1996, while the team last beat three rival squads at the Championships in 1995.
As has been the story all season, the depth on the men's side was key to its best consecutive team finishes (fifth last season) since 2002-03 and was particularly evident this race, with all five scorers separated by a mere 15 places and 29-second spread.
"When the final scores are that close, it becomes clear how important each individual is," Head Coach Ben Raphelson said.
Walton's margin of victory over Chapman University's top finisher made up the entire margin between the Beavers and seventh-place Panthers, as the nine-point edge held by Caltech's second and third runners was canceled out by Chapman's fourth and fifth. The Beavers finished just 25 points behind Whittier College, whose top two runners finished among the first seven places while the Beavers' fifth, sixth and seventh runners beat out the corresponding Poets.
Particularly wet conditions at Prado Regional Park translated to very soft ground and thus slower times across the board than in previous races this season. Still, the Beavers generally improved on their places at the Multi-Duals, with Walton proving her fourth-place finish at the Pomona-Pitzer Invitational. The rookie broke off the starting line among a lead group of about a dozen runners, which steadily dwindled as the pace quickened throughout until just a handful remained giving chase to eventual champion Maya Weigel. Walton was flanked by classmate Jena Srikanth (Fresno, Calif. / Clovis North), who has shown well in the past two races despite limited training due to injury, and sophomore Melissa Gutierrez (Pico Rivera, Calif. / El Rancho), who just about matched her Multi-Dual placing in 39th while improving significantly on last year's 72nd-place finish as a rookie. Sophomore Cherie Jia (Auckland, New Zealand / Auckland Int'l Coll.) returned from injury to score in fourth for the Beavers at 67th overall, with sophomore Michelle Marasigan (Elk Grove Village, Ill. / James B. Conant) finishing soon after in 72nd. Freshman Skye Reese (Concord, N.H. / Concord) improved on Multi-Duals by a full 20 spots despite the tougher field, while senior Gauri Shastri (West Lafayette, Ind. / West Lafayette Jr.-Sr.) also bettered her finish at Multi-Duals.
"This weekend illustrated the progress of our women's team," Raphelson said. "It was validating but not surprising for anyone who has seen their collective work ethic and team dynamic."
Rookie Simon Ricci (Chicago, Ill. / Latin School of Chicago) and sophomore Rohan Choudhury (Cupertino, Calif. / Monta Vista) paced the men's team in 39th and 41st place overall, with Choudhury's finish marking a 14-place improvement on both the Multi-Duals and last year's Championships. Freshman Sam Blazes (Seattle, Wash. / Sidwell Friends) continued his recent breakthrough, placing third on the team and 47th overall after coming in 75th at the Multi-Duals, while classmate Tanner Moore (Roseville, Calif. / Oakmont) crossed the line just behind Blazes in 48th to mark an eight-place improvement. Freshman Greg Gephart (Reno, Nev. / Robert McQueen), the Beavers' No. 2 runner all season, fought through illness to score crucial points for the team in fifth position. Sophomore Rohan Doshi (West Windsor, N.J. / West Windsor-Plainsboro North) and freshman David Fager (Miami, Fla. / Belen Jesuit Prep) boasted the most impressive gains vs. Multi-Duals among the rest of the Caltech contingent, with Doshi improving by five and finishing 11 places higher than last year, while Fager snuck in ahead of seven additional runners despite the deeper field.
"It's challenging to step up to the starting line knowing that your preparation hasn't been perfect," Raphelson said. "For Jena and Greg to put themselves out there for their team showed tremendous heart – neither squad could have finished where we did without them."
Raphelson and the Beavers now shift their focus to the NCAA West Regional Championships hosted in Salem, Ore. on Saturday, Nov. 12.