PASADENA (Aug. 29, 2019) – The Caltech women's cross country team is as talented as ever and is primed to improve its standing within the SCIAC as well as the NCAA Division III West Region in 2019.
The Beavers are returning nearly their entire roster from the prior season when they notched a fifth-place SCIAC Championship finish and placed 13th in the region. However, this year brings as much optimism as ever with a handful of key new additions set to join the team and help Caltech raise the bar once again. The Beavers have already achieved their first top-10 regional ranking before even stepping foot on the course in 2019 and will be determined to prove they are not only worthy of their ninth-place standing in the region but capable of exceeding it.
"Overall, we will have a very talented group of runners competing this fall," Head Coach Ben Raphelson said. "Our freshman women will be immediate contributors this year and traditionally have it easier than the men only having to transition from 5k to 6k. We also have a pretty accomplished group of returners with a great deal of experience to offer."
Juniors Claire Hu (Palo Alto, Calif. / Henry M. Gunn) and Molly Crotteau (Chicago, Ill. / Payton) are once again set to head the way for Caltech. Hu finished her sophomore cross country season on a high note (17th at regionals) and is also coming off a highly successful track season which included a record-setting 10000m debut at the SCIAC Championship meet. The junior additionally broke her own 5000m record twice in 2018 and did so for a final time at the last meet of the season. Crotteau is also looking to build on a successful track season when she set the school Steeplechase record (11:48.17). Both competitors also improved their top 6k times as sophomores and will be looking to put further improvements on display as they enter the second half of their collegiate careers.
"We're very fortunate to have athletes like Claire and Molly on the team," Raphelson said. "Claire is able to come out of every experience better and wiser and I'm sure she wants to build on her success from seasons past. We're also very fortunate to have someone on the team who works as hard as Molly. She really started to break through as a competitor this past spring and I think she's eager to carry that success into cross country. We might see her race at a higher level than she ever has."
Three incoming freshmen will be looking to break into the top-seven and have the talent and credentials to make an immediate impact this year. Lauren Garriques (Lake Forest, Ill. / Lake Forest) posted a 17:38 three-mile time in her native Illinois and has won multiple international medals in the duathlon. Pippa Richter (Columbia, S.C. / A.C. Flora) contended for the South Carolina state championship as a high school senior and owns a personal-best 19:14 5k time. Tea Freedman-Susskind (Seattle, Wash. / Lakeside), meanwhile has been an early standout in practice and could factor into the Beavers' top-seven at some point this season.
"Pippa and Lauren are two women who have the ability to contribute right away and Tea is already showing herself to be fitter than she ever performed in high school," Raphelson said. "All of them are eager to contribute and we've really enjoyed their presence."
The rest of Caltech's returners will also have a hand in the success of this year's team. Senior co-captain Skye Reese (Concord, N.H. / Concord) broke through at last year's SCIAC Championships when she finished second on the team with a 25:37.10 on the challenging course. Reese will look to lead by example and is one of two seniors on this year's team, along with Nicole Feng (Bethany, Conn. / Amity Regional). Both competitors will be looking to set new personal bests as their cross country careers come to a close. Caltech will also have junior Sirisha Gudavalli (Boulder, Colo. / Fairview) back this year after a positive track season that saw her improve as a competitor, as well as sophomores Alex Bardon (Boston, Mass. / Winsor School), Jamie Littman (Port Washington, N.Y. / Paul D. Schreiber) and Natalie Lelieur (South Pasadena, Calif. / South Pasadena). Bardon made an immediate impact as a freshman, never finishing worse than fourth on the team while competing in all six races. Some of the sophomores had injuries plague their track seasons, but everybody is returning to campus healthy and in shape after devoting themselves over the summer months.
The Beavers will have the opportunity to finish the season as well as they ever have under Raphelson, who is heading into his sixth season as head coach. As the Beavers look to improve on their fifth-place conference standing and show they belong as a top-10 regional team, their primary focus will be on on consistent daily improvement, understanding that this could add up to some exceptional results at the end of the season.
"Performing at our highest collective level at the end of the year is always the measure of a good season," Raphelson said. "Specifics often change in terms of the place we're striving for, but successful seasons always have us running our best at the end, especially when the entire team is at its best."
Raphelson and the Beavers will kick off the season this weekend at the 4.5K Redlands Invitational on Saturday, Aug. 31 at 8 a.m.