Both the men’s and women’s cross country teams are nationally ranked for the first time since 2009, according to cross country coach Robert Bartlett. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)’s website shows that Occidental is currently No. 20 in the country for men’s cross country and No. 32 for women’s. Both teams are significantly higher in the rankings than they were last year, when the men’s team finished 31st in Division III nationals and the women’s team was not ranked, according to the NCAA website.
Bartlett said he expects the upward trend to continue for both teams, citing a strong recruiting class on the women’s team and hard work on both sides. He also said the teams, and specifically, the high-scoring “cores” of each, have matured since last year.
“The core of the men’s team, in a way, is our senior class, and the core of the women’s team is the junior class. So they’re just a year older and more experienced,” Bartlett said.
Women’s cross country captain Eva Townsend is the only senior on the team. She said she agreed with Bartlett that the juniors are some of the strongest runners on the team, especially junior captains Aria Blumm and Roxanne Valle, and is optimistic about the team’s performance during the rest of this season and next year. Townsend said she expects both the men’s and women’s teams to place second in the upcoming SCIAC Championships, which will take place in Prado Park Nov. 4.
“We got second at our other SCIAC meet and I don’t think anything has changed much,” Townsend said.
Townsend said she expects Claremont-Mudd-Scripps to be Occidental’s main competition at the meet. Claremont has always had a strong team, according to Townsend.
Men’s cross country captain Austin Sankaran (senior) said he also expects the men’s team to get second in the SCIAC Championships.
“People kind of expect us to get second. I think we’d be happy getting second, but obviously the goal is to try to win a SCIAC Championship,” Sankaran said. “Pomona-Pitzer’s really good this year. I think they’re ranked fifth in the country, so that’s the team we’re looking to beat.”
Sankaran said Pomona-Pitzer and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps have historically been Occidental’s primary rivals, but that this year Claremont does not pose a great threat.
“We beat Claremont this year,” Sankaran said. “We expect to continue beating them.”
Captain Keenan Leary (senior) said he attributes the team’s success this year to Bartlett’s coaching and to the runners’ positive mentality, saying the team is excited rather than nervous on race days. He also mentioned that, as a team that is not nationally ranked every year, Occidental’s men’s cross country team is especially eager to prove their worth.
“Everyone kind of runs with a chip on their shoulder,” Leary said. “Everyone’s ready to ball out.”
Townsend said the women’s team has improved tremendously since she joined the team as a first year. At that time, the team had six injured runners and was unable to field a full team for regionals. Townsend said the current team is more cohesive and motivated than it has ever been during her time at Occidental. Qualifying for nationals has been a serious goal for the team since 2015, and this year they may achieve it, according to Townsend.
“We’re in the right mindset, for sure,” Townsend said. “I think this past race really shows our motivation.”
Townsend said she has high hopes for the team after she graduates. Because most of the highest-placing runners are juniors, the team will only become more tight-knit and perform better next year, according to Townsend. She said she expects them to qualify for nationals next year even if they do not qualify this year.
Captain Andrew Jack (senior) said he and other runners have talked about how the team will do next year when the core of current seniors have graduated, but that they are mainly focusing on doing well this season and not thinking too much about the future.
“Personally, I’m not too worried,” Jack said. “I think Brody Barkan* and Tristan Santos, the junior captains, really have things under control.”
Jack, Leary and Sankaran all said that the men’s team hopes to win regionals this year.
Bartlett echoed the captains’ predictions for the SCIAC Championships, saying he expected both teams to place in the top two.
“We’ve got everything to run for and lots of reasons to be optimistic and excited,” Bartlett said.
*Brody Barkan is an Occidental Weekly staff member.