PASADENA (Aug. 29, 2019) – The 2019 Caltech men's cross country team will be the most experienced group Head Coach Ben Raphelson has had to work with, which should lead to some of the team's best results ever with another history-making season now in the rearview mirror.
The Beavers are set to begin the season ranked eighth in the NCAA West Region, matching their place-of-finish at last year's regional championship race. Caltech has also been ranked fifth in this year's SCIAC preseason poll, which matches the team's fifth-place, 125-point finish at last year's conference championship meet. The increments of success the men's cross country team has experienced in recent years, albeit with plenty more to strive for has this year's team well-equipped for what lies ahead of them.
"The distances in men's cross country generally lends to more experienced runners," Raphelson said. "Looking at the top performers in the conference and the region, it almost always entirely consists of juniors and seniors. Good programs need a certain amount of time to get to that level and this is the first time in five years we've had a group that's not overly reliant on freshmen. This will be the oldest top-seven I've had and certainly the most experienced."
Sophomore Gaurav Phanse (Fremont, Calif. / Dublin) and senior Simon Ricci (Chicago, Ill. / Latin School of Chicago) will likely run atop the Caltech lineup as they did last season. Phanse enters the 2019 season coming off one of the best rookie seasons in program history, which featured him breaking the four-year-old program 8K record originally set by NCAA qualifier Aditya Bhagavathi '16 in his junior year. In doing so, Phanse rounded out the top-20 at the regional meet and helped lead his team to its finish since 1997. Ricci, however bested Phanse in the Beavers' first two races of the year and at the conference championship race where both runners took home All-SCIAC Second Team honors. Ricci brings an excellent combination of talent and experience into his senior season and will look to raise the bar for a fourth consecutive season.
"Gaurav succeeded last year in spite of many of the factors that typically work against freshmen," Raphelson said. "This year he'll have an even better idea of what to expect and won't have to enter any unknown territory. Simon has already determined in his mind that he's going to be successful as a senior. I would not set any limits on what he can accomplish."
Caltech is also bringing in a group of freshmen who will be looking to make a successful transition from high school to college while aiming to enter the top-seven conversation. Kyle Piper (Lafayette, Colo. / Centaurus) is an accomplished distance and middle distance athlete whose experience with altitude training in his native Colorado may lead to a quicker transition to the collegiate level. Julen Lujambio (Middletown, Conn. / Xavier) is another well-rounded athlete who learned to embrace the grind of training at an early age and Patrick Martinez (Fullerton, Calif. / Troy) also brings vast distance experience, achieving his best times in longer-distance track events not typically offered in high school. Classmates Marcos Perez (North Hollywood, Calif. / North Hollywood) and Emile Timothy Anand (Dubai, United Arab Emirates / Cambridge International School) will also be competing this year and bring with them varying levels of high school experience.
"We like Kyle's resume and it wouldn't surprise if he ends up being a big contributor," Raphelson said. "Julen and Patrick are coming off exceptional summers as well and I believe they will be able to race at a higher level than they did in high school."
Key returners for the Beavers include senior Tanner Moore (Roseville, Calif. / Oakmont) and juniors Spencer Morgenfeld (Palo Alto, Calif. / Palo Alto) and Matthew Earney (San Diego, Calif. / Del Norte). Moore and Morgenfeld will join Ricci as co-captains are determined to bring added consistency to the Beavers' top-seven. Moore is as dependable as they come; he has finished no less than second or third on the team over his last two seasons and posted a steady range of times during his junior season. Earney and Morgenfeld, meanwhile are embracing their veteran roles and will be names to watch for among the Beavers' top group. Sophomores August Chen (Redmond, Wash. / Redmond) and Kellen Rodriguez (Fairmont, Minn. / Fairmont) will also be returning with a better understanding of what it takes to be successful and are coming off great summers. Seniors Tiger Lu (Shanghai, China / Shanghai American School Puxi), Bhairav Chidambaram (San Diego, Calif. / Canyon Crest Acad.) and David Fager (Miami, Fla. / Belen Jesuit Prep), along with junior Haoyuan Sun (Alexandria, Va. / Thomas Jefferson Science & Tech.) are likewise as fit and healthy as ever after strong summers.
The Beavers will have a chance to exceed their preseason rankings as long as they are able to maintain good health and the level of commitment it takes to be successful. The combination of upper and underclassmen has become a strength of the team and given the extensive summer work each athlete has put into their craft, the Beavers will begin the 2019 season more prepared for success than ever.
"This is probably the best collective summer of training the team has ever had," Raphelson said. "Everybody arrived on campus ready to go and in many cases made legitimate improvements. I think they're eager to continue to build on that body of work."
Raphelson and the Beavers will kick off the season this weekend at the 4.5K Redlands Invitational on Saturday, Aug. 31 at 8:45 a.m.