REDLANDS, Calif. (Sept. 3, 2016) – The Caltech cross country team's mass infusion of new talent served immediate notice of its presence with a spectacular season-opening performance at the Redlands Invitational on Saturday.
Rookies Nikhil Poole (Arcadia, Calif. / Flintridge Prep) and Simon Ricci (Chicago, Ill. / Latin School of Chicago) placed first and second overall to lead the men's team to a decisive victory over the University of Redlands, which had been picked to finish one spot above the Beavers in the SCIAC Preseason Coaches Poll. Freshman Sophie Walton (Emerald Hills, Calif. /Sequoia) also beat out every Bulldog to pace the women's side to a third-place finish among five teams.
"Our improved depth was on display in both races," Head Coach Ben Raphelson said. "That's certainly the biggest change coming into this year. We have a few more important people to add to the mix, so our prospects look promising."
The men's squad ran conservatively in the early stages of the race before kicking into gear toward the halfway point and closing strong. Whereas just two Beavers cracked 20 minutes at last year's race, a whopping seven broke the barrier to open this season, with Caltech's third-through-seventh runners all beating out the third-place runner for Redlands.
Poole and Ricci recorded a seven-second victory margin while sophomore Rohan Choudhury (Cupertino, Calif. / Monta Vista), who had run the second-fastest time at the course in his collegiate debut last season, posted a seven-second improvement while classmates Joey Hong (Campbell, Calif. / King's Acad.) and Michael Hashe (Plano, Texas / Texas Acad. of Math & Science) also showcased significant gains over the past year, shaving 31 seconds and 1:35, respectively. Freshmen Greg Gephart (Reno, Nev. / Robert McQueen), Gianmarco Terrones (McLean, Va. / The Potomac School), Tommy Alford (Dublin, Ohio / Dublin Coffman) and Tanner Moore (Roseville, Calif. / Oakland) finished in consecutive order from seventh through 11th with Choudhury as just 21 seconds separated the pack, while rookie Sam Blazes (Seattle, Wash. / Sidwell Francis) was just off the pace in 14th place.
"I thought our first-years ran with a lot of poise," Raphelson said. "That, along with their ability to execute a race plan effectively, impressed me more than their finishing times or places."
Walton hung off a fast early pace in the women's race and ran a strong second mile to close the gap and vault into contention, running a full minute faster than last year's top Beaver finisher.
"Sophie showed great patience early and made a really bold move in the second mile," Raphelson said. "It was great to see her debut in a Caltech uniform with a positive performance."
Sophomore Cherie Jia (Auckland, New Zealand / Auckland Int'l Coll.), running her first competitive race at any level, debuted with a solid 23rd-place finish while another trio of freshmen – Michelle Zhao (San Diego, Calif. / Canyon Crest Acad.), Nicole Feng (Bethany, Conn. / Amity Regional) and Skye Reese (Concord, N.H. / Concord) – placed 28th-31st. Junior Robin Brown (Potomac, Md. / Richard Montgomery) led the returners with a massive improvement of nearly two minutes from her debut time last year.
"Our women's team could be the most improved in the conference," Raphelson said. "I think we've tried to lay the foundation for this the last few years, but it was a pretty stark contrast to our team performance here a year ago."
Raphelson and the Beavers participate in the Biola Invitational in Fullerton this Saturday, Sept. 10 before a three-week layoff leading up to the SCIAC Multi-Duals, which take place two weeks earlier this season.
"This was a good start and a fun way to kick off the racing season, but I think it's safe to say that everyone is hungry for greater performances down the road," Raphelson said.