SANTA CLARITA, Calif. (Sept. 19, 2015) – The Caltech men's and women's cross country teams stepped up from their season-opening distances of 4.5 and 6k, respectively, to 5k and 8k at the Mustang Challenge hosted by The Master's College on Saturday morning.
With the Beavers forgoing the UC Riverside course for the first time in four years in favor of more severe rolling terrain, times could be expected to come in a bit slower than in prior season.
"We expected the course to be more difficult than ones we have run in previous seasons," Head Coach Ben Raphelson said. "We knew that even coming close to our prior early-season times would show how we have progressed, and we even had several beat their past times."
Yet freshman Michelle Marasigan (Elk Grove Village, Ill. / James B. Conant) and sophomore Caroline Atyeo (Parkland, Fla. / Marjory Stoneman Douglas) ran impressive races on the women's side, with Marasigan just seconds off her 4.5k pace from two weeks prior as she clocked a 20:40.71 – just 13 seconds behind graduated 6k record-holder Stephanie Reynolds' 5k time last season. Atyeo also ran within two-and-a-half minutes of her 4.5k time and just 19 seconds off her 2014 time at the easier UC Riverside course.
Freshman Melissa Gutierrez (Pico Rivera, Calif. / El Rancho) snuck between Marasigan and Atyeo with a 21:13.36, while senior Rachel Thorp (La Canada, Calif. / La Canada) posted a respectable 22:26.74 in her first race in nearly two years. Freshman Robin Brown (Potomac, Md. / Richard Montgomery) rounded out the Beavers' lineup, nearly matching her collegiate debut mile pace despite the longer distance and tougher course.
"Michelle's performance today on this difficult a course was probably comparable to her career-best in high school," Head Coach Ben Raphelson said. "Caroline did an outstanding job pacing herself early and turned in a very strong performance as well."
Senior Aditya Bhagavathi (Plainsboro, N.J. / West Windsor-Plainsboro North) made his debut working alongside senior Jared Forte (Lake Elsinore, Calif. / Elsinore) and freshman Rohan Choudhury (Cupertino, Calif. / Monta Vista) for the first three miles before opening it up over the final two. The 2014 NCAA qualifier clocked a blistering sub-10:00 split over the last two miles, which included a steep climb up the toughest hill on the course, to finish two second faster than his first 8k last year, in 26:45.11. Forte was not far behind, crossing the finish at 27:15.65 – five seconds quicker than his season-best NCAA West Regional performance in 2014. Choudhury kept fairly close to the pack as well, clocking a 27:56.34 as he ran within 15 seconds of the mile pace from his collegiate debut on Sept. 5.
"We took a similar approach to Aditya's first race last year, where he started conservatively and paced his teammates before stepping things up over the last two miles," Raphelson explained. "Jared continued his string of strong performances and I'm happy to see his persistence paying off."
Freshman Joey Hong (Milpitas, Calif. / King's Acad.) fronted a quintet of Beavers to finish next, all within one minute of each other, while freshman Noah Huffman (Littletown, Pa. / Bishop McCort Catholic) moved up three spots within the team order of finish. Among the returners, seniors Elliot Simon (Alexandria, Va. / Thomas Jefferson) and Mark Lorden (Brookline, N.H. / Hollis-Brookline) trimmed 51 seconds and 1:14, respectively, off their debut 8k times last year while sophomore Mason MacDougall (La Mirada, Calif. / La Mirada) blew away the rest of the squad with a massive five-and-a-half minute drop.
"Taking on their first 8k of the year, and in many cases the first one of their career, the men looked very strong in the critical latter stages of the race," Raphelson said. "Some had better days than others, but everyone has now run that distance and is eager to build on today."
Both men's and women's teams will be adding a handful of additional runners over the next two weeks as the academic term officially begins. Raphelson and the Beavers will head to the Pomona-Pitzer Cross Country Invite on Saturday, Oct. 3, where the women will make the step up to their official 6k distance.