Poets score five upsets at NCAA Championships
SPALDING, KY - Surpassing expectations, the No. 28 ranked Whittier College Men's Cross Country team placed 23rd of the 32 qualifying teams at the NCAA Division III National Championships this past Saturday. The Louisville Sports Commission and Spalding University co-hosted the event at E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park, Louisville, Kentucky.
The course, famous for its thick Kentucky bluegrass, undulating terrain, and winding technical elements, has previously served host to championship competitions including the NCAA DI cross country finals.
A 40-degree temperature drop, rain dampened course, and 15 mph wind gusting to 35 mph, greeted the athletes and spectators at race time. The adverse conditions served only to add flavor to the challenge, a challenge typical of most cross country races. "The warm-up period prior to the start of the women's 6K was particularly weather intense… the warm-up was a workout in itself"; commented head coach Greg Phillips. "I watched wind gusts push ladies from one side of the course alley to the other"; he added.
Whittier's Julissa Tobias, an individual qualifier for Nationals, rose to the occasion by surrounding herself with competitors during the race, in order to draft through the wind. "It's hard to spot Julissa on any race video because she was smart enough to use competitors to block the wind"; said Phillips. Julissa's tactics helped achieve her fastest 6K time ever, despite the conditions, a time second only to Poet All-American Michele Callaway's 2010 performance at Nationals.
The men also recorded several personal bests; most noteworthy that of sophomore Julian Sandoval's 25:07 effort. Sandoval's Nationals time is second only to Poet alum Matthew Stuart's 1999 sub-25 minute performance at Nationals. "Julian's time came close to All-American recognition and, like Julissa, All-American honors will be a good individual goal for next year"; said Phillips.
"But our team is a chorus not solo performances"; commented team member Jessica McCollum who was among teammates watching the live video feed. It's this team-first attitude that's evident among all 23 men's and women's roster members. The scoring men, of the seven (Sandoval, Kevin Huey, Ruben Solorza, Osvaldo Cerda, William Howells, Gabriel Calove, and Tanner Olsen) who represented the men's team at Nationals, averaged 25 minutes and 45 seconds on the 8K (5 mile) course.
The team effort resulted in upsets of No. 15 ranked Middlebury College, No. 16 ranked Occidental College, No. 21 ranked College of New Jersey, No. 24 ranked New York University, and No. 27 ranked Washington & Lee University.
In addition, no team ranked lower than the Poets placed ahead of them at Nationals. The Whittier College men's cross country team concludes their season with a 23rd place performance at the National Championships. Finishing 23rd in the nation is top 6% of the 400 NCAA DIII men's cross country programs. Most professors would grade that assignment an 'A'. Congratulations to the 2016 Poet Men's Cross Country Team!