The men’s and women’s cross country teams are set to compete in the NCAA Division III West Regionals on Saturday in Claremont in what could be their last meet of the season.
Both teams were coming off impressive finishes in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference finals a couple weekends ago in which the men finished fourth in the conference, earning them a No. 7 ranking in the west region, and the women earned a seventh place finish in the SCIAC, tying their highest finish as a team since 2013.
These teams are among the most intriguing and exciting for the University due to the fact that most of the runners had never ran a race for La Verne, let alone a collegiate race, in their careers before this season, and they were led by first time head coach Jamie Norton.
“There’s been ups and downs but I feel that we have shown some of our potential,” Norton said. “This team is confident and resilient. We’ve pushed them hard in training and they have embraced it every time.”
Norton is most impressed by the growth in the group during the season. He said that he hopes this core of runners he has right now can grow into a national level program and that he expects to see them taking those steps in the next couple years.
“The youth of the team is unprecedented, they are learning all on their own. I am positive and excited for this group going forward,” Norton said.
Norton said his teams are peaking at the right time as both teams ran their best race of the season at the conference finals.
Jannelle Baeskens, graduate student first year runner at ULV, ran a season best 23:38.6 at the SCIAC championships.
“The atmosphere for the team this year has been serious, ready to put in work and fun which is a good balance,” Baeskens said.
Baeskens, who will be graduating this year, is excited about where this team will be in the next few years.
“I hope this season gives the team confidence going forward into next year, this team is learning everyday how to be a team, and the progress on both the men’s and women’s side is going to progress in the standings in the conference,” Baeskens said.
Looking to the regional finals this weekend, freshman T.K. Herhe is eager for the next race and the experience and challenge it will bring to the team.
“I’m excited to see how we will all perform (at regionals) since we are all sophomores,” Herhe said. “We are a family now and we can grow together and compete for nationals, and we even have the ability to compete for 10th in the nation with this core.”
Herhe ran a personal best 26:02.7 at Claremont and finished 32nd, ahead of the entire Occidental team.
Sophomore Michael Sahagun, SCIAC Newcomer of the Year and First-Team All-SCIAC runner, finished 10th in the SCIAC meet with a time of 25:01.7, the fastest ever for a La Verne runner on the course.
“(Our fourth place finish) wasn’t the result we wanted,” Sahagun said. “We wanted to show that La Verne was here to compete but this is a competitive conference.”
He said the fact that he and his teammates lost their freshman season last year has granted them with some eligibility to run after they finish their undergraduate classes. He is excited for the bond they will continue to grow and he is ready to see how well they perform in the long run.
“The west region is a tough region and the fact that (the men’s team) is already ranked in the top 10 is exciting. If we can finish near the top that would be a great accomplishment for us,” Sahagun said.
The teams are looking for a bid into nationals with a top four finish in the regional finals this Saturday. There will also be individual qualifiers for the top seven non-team qualifying runners who will earn bids to nationals as well.
Saturday’s regional race will be hosted by Pomona-Pitzer, on the same course the Leopards ran for the SCIAC championships.
The national finals will be held Nov. 20 in Louisville, Kentucky.
The last men’s individual to qualify for nationals was Matthew Salas in 2019 and the last women’s qualifying runner was Melissa Cerrillos in 2018.
Jacob Barriga can be reached at email@example.com.
In an earlier version of this story, T.K. Herhe’s name was misspelled. The Campus Times regrets the error.