Tomas Rodriguez, Toby Qualls, Don Qualls and former Mammoth Running Star Elliot Rodriguez. Picture taken minutes after race. (Photo courtesy Don Qualls)
By Don Qualls
Toby Qualls ran in the CIF finals on Nov. 20, and finished in sixteenth place, fast enough to qualify for the State Finals, to be held on Nov. 27, in Fresno, Calif.
Weather was a big factor in last Satuday’s race, with the rain soaking everything and everyone. The wet weather caused officials to change the normal race course to a backup course that was completely flat and on asphalt. Since Qualls normally uses hills to separate himself from other runners, the new course was not conducive to his running style and coaches had to come up with last second running strategies to help him adjust to the new flat course.
Qualls had to run against 118 other runners, most of them juniors and seniors, and all of which were the very top finishers in their leagues from all over Southern California. Still not fully recovered from shin injuries, the outcome for Qualls was completely unknown. He is not expected to be back at 100 percent until about one month after the state finals.
From the start it was clear that the race would be different than others that Qualls had been able to easily dominate. The number of front runners was much larger than normal, and instead of a few boys leading the pack, a group of about 30 runners shot out and held the lead. Coaches and family spread out across the course and kept in touch regarding their runner’s progress by cell phones. But the rain made it hard to see exactly who was who among the large group of front runners. Since it was a flat course, runners stayed bunched together as they sprinted for the finish line. It was hard to find Qualls in the large group, so everyone was left guessing. Coaches knew that for Qualls to move on to State he would have to finish top 20 or better. Coach Luke made one of the last phone calls as he watched the group go by him at the two and one half mile mark. This call was to me, Qualls’ father who was waiting at the finish line. “He’s got a chance!,” Luke excalimed. Thirty boys then began a wild scramble, each trying to finish ahead of the other and move on to State. I counted as each boy crossed the finish line. At first, I did not even recognize my own son. Soaking wet, his normally curly hair flattened by rain, and covered in mud, Toby was not recognizable, but he had done it! Only three sophomores were in the top 20 and made it to State and Qualls was one of them with a time of 17:14.