The Mammoth High School Cross Country Team brought back four medals from the Bellarmine Cross Country Invitational. Sophomore runner Toby Qualls (front row, second from left) came in first place (Photo: Don Qualls)
By Don Qualls
On Sept. 25, the Mammoth High School cross country team traveled to Griffith Park, in Los Angeles, Calif., to run in
the 37th Annual Bellarmine Cross Country Invitational. More than 80 high schools and 1,823 runners ran in this year’s event. This is a huge invitational and runners were divided into small, medium, and large schools. A small school is considered to be less than 700 kids. Mammoth has less than 300 kids and would technically be considered a small school, but since Mammoth coaches wanted to finish early to avoid the heat and the dangers of traveling back late at night, Mammoth was signed up in the medium and large school divisions since those races took place before noon. The course was three miles long, and very hilly.
Race day was brutally hot with a high of 102 degrees. The Huskies brought six runners to this huge event: Seniors Kristin King and Fernando Ramirez, sophomores Toby Qualls and Miguel Prieto, and freshman Hailey Hugelman. Rounding out the team and brought for obvious reasons, was freshman Phil “the chick magnet” Oxford.
Due to the size of the event, and the fact that a great deal of the State’s best runners reside in southern California, the Mammoth kids were visibly nervous. Oxford, once again, did what he does best, (not suitable for publication), and had the whole team laughing.
Hugelman started the official racing in a huge field of runners. Hugelman medaled in her third straight invitational, and finished 30th in a field of 171 runners, in the large school junior varsity division with a time of 22:32 minutes.
Oxford, who probably out did himself prior to the race, finished strong with a time of 26:30.
King then ran in the girls’ varsity race. This was King’s second invitational, and her second medal. King finished 8th, and had to fight through the heat to do it. She ran the three mile course in 21:01.
Qualls and Prieto could have signed up in the Junior Varsity division, but were instead signed up in the varsity race with teammate Ramirez. This was Mammoth’s last race of the day, and temperatures were soaring. Once again, Mammoth runners would run against the much larger schools.
Because of the high level of talent present at this invitational, Assistant Coach Andrew Kastor, took Qualls aside beforehand and was asked him to go out and run the first mile at a 5:15 pace, nearly impossible for most of the runners. Kastor, who has been training Qualls for more than one year, knew that he would be able to recover after this hard push at the mile mark, and it would put him in a good position to finish the race. Kastor told Qualls not to panic at the mile mark, to just trust that all the previous training would allow him to recover and finish the race.
At the starting gun, Qualls and Prieto raced to the top five at the head of the huge pack. At the half mile mark, disaster was narrowly avoided. Qualls was running second, right behind the lead runner and was already starting to set up to draft. It was at this point the lead runner started to run the wrong way on the course. It is doubtful that Qualls was able to hear his coach’s panicked directions, but he turned in the correct direction anyway, ignoring the lead runner, and never looked back. He led the race from there on out and not only ran the first mile at before mentioned 5:15 pace, but completed all three miles at the same speed. Qualls won the race with a blistering time of 15:46 and was 14 seconds shy of breaking the all-time sophomore record set in 1989 at 15:32. Qualls beat his closest competitor by 24 seconds. Had the temperature been lower, or Qualls been pushed, Kastor believed chances would have been good that he would have lowered the record.
Prieto was the surprise runner of the race with his time of 17:44, good enough for a medal and 22nd place. Prieto ran this race with little training, so this was huge. According to Coach Rob Friedl, if Prieto trains hard, he and Qualls could be a huge one two punch in years to come. “Its going to be fun,” he said.
Ramirez rounded out the day with a respectable time of 21:55, good enough for a 64th place finish in this very competitive race.