Cross Country Sends Pair of Freshmen to Seattle for NCAA West Regionals

Eastern’s Top Runners to face off with the best of the best from the Western Region

True freshman David Thor and redshirt freshman Berenice Penaloza of the Eastern Washington University men’s and women’s cross country teams will be competing at the NCAA West Regional Championships on Friday (Nov. 9) in Seattle, Wash. The races will be held at Jefferson Golf Course, with the women’s 6,000 meters starting at 12 p.m. and the men’s 10,000 following at 1:15.

“As freshmen, this will be the largest race they have been in this season with over 30 teams attending,” head coach Chris Zeller said. “It will be a true learning experience for them to see how they handle that size of a race and how they will push through it.”

In their most recent action, Eastern’s men finished ninth at the Big Sky Championships in Flagstaff, Ariz., while the women finished 11th. Thor led the way for the men, finishing 25th with a time of 26:35.5. Penaloza was the top runner for the women, placing 29th and covering the 5,000-meter course in 18:39.2.

Thor has finished first for the Eagle men in every race this season and has also placed in the top 25 at each meet.  One of his top races of the season came in Seattle, when he placed 19th at the Sundodger Invitational, crossing the line in 24:55.74.

“David had an interesting resume coming in as a seven-time state champion from Kansas and he’s proved that those titles were no fluke,” Zeller said. “He has shown great potential for years to come and I think he will have another solid performance this weekend.”

Penaloza has also been the top finisher for the Eastern women in each race, placing in the top 20 in three different meets. In her only 6,000-meter race this season, which was also in Seattle, she ran a time of 23:10.22 to place 39th.

“Berenice was able to put some health issues behind her and have a really solid summer prior to the season,” Zeller said. “She’s been able to dig deep more and more each race and just continue to be competitive and stay confident. I expect more of the same from her at this meet.”

There are nine regional meets where the top two teams automatically qualify for the NCAA Championships in Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 17. After those 18 teams, 13 at-large teams are selected based on how well they’ve competed against the automatic qualifiers. For an individual to make it, they must be one of the first four individual runners to place, and finish in the top 25 overall in their region. The last Eagle to qualify for nationals as an individual was Paul Limpf in 2008 – he finished 11th overall and was the top individual in the region.

“I expect both of them to be contenders for those individual spots in the coming years, so getting a feel for this meet will be essential,” Zeller said.

After competing at 7,000-foot Flagstaff, Ariz., the fast, flat and sea-level course in Seattle will be a welcome sign according to Zeller, as it will allow the freshmen to abandon the conservative mentality from the conference meet and be much more aggressive.

Overall, the main thing Zeller wants both runners to get out of this meet is experience.

“I mainly want them to see what this meet is all about and what the level of competition is like,” Zeller said. “Nothing can really prepare you for that besides being there. Getting that experience will get them prepared so that once they’re each ready to do something big there it won’t be their first time in that environment.”

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