14 Poet Runners Qualify for NCAA West Regional, Two Advance to National Championships

14 Poet Runners Qualify for NCAA West Regional, Two Advance to National Championships

Julian Sandoval and Julissa Tobias punch tickets to Principia College, Illinois, to represent Whittier at CC Nationals

Sandoval, Tobias achieve Whittier's 37th and 38th NCAA Championships appearances in cross country since 1990

Photos by: Tony Leon/ActionWestPhotography.com

CLAREMONT, Calif. - Qualifying for the NCAA Regionals for a cross-country runner is an internal competition among friends and teammates. One must finish the regular season ranked among the top seven runners on one's team. Not often an easy task…

Once a runner makes top seven, it becomes a battle against every other team's top seven in a single NCAA regional race (there are 21 teams in the West Region). Such is the life of an individual/team sport athlete… Wishing both team success for your uniform while racing competitors and mates alike for individual qualification should the coveted team result not be enough to qualify on its own merits.

The seven Whittier men who competed at the NCAA West Regional on Saturday again finished the season as a regionally ranked team. It was the 18th time since 1988 such an accomplishment was achieved. Junior Julian Sandoval (El Monte, Calif.) led the team, as he has most of the season, with a 3rd place finish among the 124 runners who finished the 8000m course. He averaged 5:03 per mile on the sandy/rocky terrain… a course known for long deceptive inclines and sharp 70-90 degree turns. Sandoval's performance qualified as the second of seven individuals advancing to the NCAA Championships race in the Midwest on November 18. It's the second Championship qualification for Sandoval after leading the Poets to a team qualification in 2016.

Freshman Benjamin White (La Habra Heights, Calif.) was Whittier's second runner across the line at Regionals with an exceptional 21st place effort. The performance was good enough to join Sandoval on the NCAA All West Region team but missed an individual Championships qualification by just 2.5 seconds. Strong efforts by sophomore William Howells (Webster Grove, MO), freshman David Del Carmen (Huntington Beach, Calif.), senior KamRon Perry (San Jose, Calif.), freshman Dylan Highducheck (Gardena, Calif.), and sophomore Maxwell Koszowski (Denver, CO), following Sandoval and White, gained enough position for the team's regionally ranked conclusion. 

The seven Whittier women who competed at the Regionals on Saturday finished 12th of the 21 schools in the region. The team result was made possible by the strong efforts of junior Anahy Covarrubias (Los Angeles, Calif.), Esmeralda Martinez (Pomona, Calif.), Jessica McCollum (Engleton, CO), Melissa Tobias (Norwalk, Calif.), and Dan'Nyce Worthy-Mays (Ontario, Calif.) racing as Whittier's 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th NCAA regional qualifiers. All five, however, were amazed and inspired by the front-running performances of seniors Julissa Tobias (Norwalk, Calif.) and Jessica Iribe (Cypress, CA). "Julissa had no business racing today", indicated Coach Greg Phillips. "Her timing for contracting a bad cold could not have been worse." Julissa wheezed and coughed and sniffled her way through the course with no energy and a terrible headache. She finished 5th among the 138 runners completing the course and could barely stand at the awards ceremony. Tobias' performance qualified her for a 3rd National Championships appearance. Senior Iribe's performance was no less spectacular… Jess concluded her four-year career with her best race ever. She easily qualified for the NCAA All-West Region team placing 13th overall. It was also her best time ever for 6000m cross-country (22:22.29). Sadly, it was also seemingly the hardest year ever to qualify for the NCAA Championships as an individual in the women's west region. "Most years a time and place like Jess's gets to the National Championships… but because the top 10 places were dominated by individuals not representing one of the two qualifying teams it simply didn't go our way", wrote Phillips. "Jess could contend for a high place at Nationals but we couldn't get her out of an extremely competitive women's west region… her time was faster than what a recent All-American ran on the Pomona course!" he concluded.