SALEM, Ore. (Nov. 12, 2016) – Caltech women's cross country recorded its best finish in program history at the NCAA West Regional, with freshman Sophie Walton (Emerald Hills, Calif. / Sequoia) earning All-West Region honors thanks to a 19th-place finish.
The women's team beat four teams for the first time in program history, placing 15th in the field of 19 behind a two-minute improvement to the team's average time last year. The team's point total was its best since 1997, when just 10 teams raced, while Walton's finish was the program's best since Hall of Honor inductee Cailin Henderson placed 15th as a senior in a field of 68 back in 1996.
Walton ran among the top eight in the field early before falling back, but charged back over the final stretch to cross the finish line a full two minutes faster than the Beavers' top time just last year, while the rest of Caltech's lineup all came in under last year's third-ranked finisher despite the wet and muddy conditions.
"Sophie sticks her nose into every race she runs," Raphelson said. "She really helped to set the tone for a team that has improved tremendously. To be All-Region as a freshman is a big honor."
Freshman Jena Srikanth (Fresno, Calif. / Clovis North) was a key member of that lineup once again, running in second among Beavers and placing 72nd overall. Sophomore Melissa Gutierrez (Pico Rivera, Calif. / El Rancho) shaved 15 seconds to improve on her place at last year's regionals by 21 spots, finishing in 84th, with classmate Cherie Jia (Auckland, New Zealand / Auckland Int'l Coll.) just six seconds behind in 87th. Sophomore Michelle Marasigan (Elk Grove Village, Ill. / James B. Conant) placed 96th, with freshmen Skye Reese (Concord, N.H. / Concord) and Michelle Zhao (San Diego, Calif. / Canyon Crest Acad.) running in 108th and 115th.
"Cherie and Skye in particular had really strong runs," Raphelson said. "Both have dealt with some nagging injuries this year, but saved their best for last. Michelle Marasigan also picked up several spots in the latter stages of the race to help us to our best finish in 20 years."
The men's team stumbled through the mud at the starting line and was immediately squeezed to the back of the field. The Beavers found themselves in dead last at the 2-kilometer mark, but had moved up a spot by the 5k and ultimately made up 40 points on the 15th-place team while finishing just 20 points out of a three-team Northwest Conference group and striking distance of matching last year's senior-laden team's place.
"We found ourselves in a really challenging position after the start," Raphelson said. "It's a long race, with time to recover, but with such a tightly packed field we had to use up a lot of energy to work back in the muddy conditions."
All seven Beavers were running in the first regionals race as freshmen Simon Ricci (Chicago, Ill. / Latin School of Chicago), Tanner Moore (Roseville, Calif. / Oakmont), Sam Blazes (Seattle, Wash. / Sidwell Francis), Gianmarco Terrones (McLean, Va. / The Potomac School), Greg Gephart (Reno, Nev. / Robert McQueen) and Tommy Alford (Dublin, Ohio / Dublin Coffman) made up the bulk of the exceedingly young squad, with sophomore Rohan Choudhury (Cupertino, Calif. / Monta Vista) the only non-rookie. Ricci placed 67th overall with Moore (71st) and Choudhury (73rd) a mere two and four seconds behind. Blazes and Terrones snuck in under the 100-man mark in 91st and 95th, while Gephart fought his way to 100th after struggling with illness the past couple weeks. Alford rounded out the squad in 109th.
"We had the tightest spread of the whole race, and that came with six freshmen and a sophomore,
Raphelson said. "That's a real positive to take away from our final race of the year."
Both squads matched their sixth-place finishes among conference opponents at the SCIAC Championships.