Finishing strong was exactly what the men’s cross country team did a few weeks ago as they were able to finish in seventh place at the NCAA Division III West Regional Championship held at Bush’s Pasture Park in Salem, Ore.
The squad finished with a total of 202 with a team total of 2:15:12.86, and an average of 27:02.58. Williamette (63) was able to come ahead of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (65).
Third place went to Whitworth (80), followed by Colorado College (98). Just in front of the Leopards was Pomona-Pitzer, which finished with 133 and Lewis & Clark, which had 190.
“We’re thrilled with the seventh place finish,” said head coach Mike Atwood. “We felt that a sixth through ninth place finish was attainable.”
The Leopards were led by freshman AJ Licon, who finished individual standings in 13th place. He was the sixth highest finisher amongst all SCIAC runners, completing the eight kilometer course with a personal best 25:58.48.
“He’s the fastest teammate that I have ever had. He really knows how to pace himself,” said sophomore Matthew Sastayta. “He runs like he’s been running in college before.”
Sophomore Alex Forbess placed 31st with 26:36.26. Both Licon and Forbess earned All-West Region honors by virtue of their Top 35 individual finishes.
Sustaya (27:21.10) and Chris Gutierrez (27:31.32) placed 47th and 51st, respectively, and Sean Kusick was 60th with a time of 27:45.70.
“With the front-running efforts of AJ and Alex along with the performance of Matt, Chris and Sean made for an outstanding day,” said Atwood.
“Our team’s mentality this season was that we’re going to surprise people,” said freshman Mike Stewart. “We trained extremely hard though out the summer for this.”
Earlier this season at the SCIAC Championships, Licon finished third overall to earn First Team All-SCIAC honors. The third-place effort was the best-ever for a La Verne men’s cross country runner at the conference championships.
Licon’s performance was able to earn him a trip to the NCAA Championships in Waverly, Iowa, making him the first Leopard to ever make it there.
Once in Iowa, the freshman was placed against 279 runners from across the nation. Licon was able to complete the race with a time of 26:24 and finished in 228th place.
“I see him going to nationals for the next few years,” said Sustayta. “He has a shot at being first in SCIAC and western regionals. I believe he will end up being an All-American”
The Leopards look to build on their success next season. Eight of the nine runners are sophomores or freshman and will return next year. Also, the team will hold an open house Dec. 3 for prospective runners.
Justin Davis-Battle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.