Two freshmen cross country runners capped off their successful campaigns on Nov. 9 as David Thor and Berenice Penaloza competed in the NCAA West Regional Championships in Seattle.
Thor completed the 10,000-meter course in 31:13, placing 83rd of 185 competitors, a 5:02 per mile pace. Head coach Chris Zeller said he was impressed with Thor’s performance.
“Overall, I thought he had a great race and I’m very excited about his future,” Zeller said. “He got everything out of this race he wanted to.”
Penaloza finished 145th of 207 female competitors, accomplishing the 6,000-meter course in 22:16, a 5:59 per mile pace.
“I told Berenice to go out aggressively and stay in the thick of the action early, and she handled it great,” Zeller said.
Thor, a two-time state champion in cross country and five-time state champion in track while attending high school in Wichita, Kan., was looking forward to the competition.
“My goal is just to do as well as I can, have the best races I can and get the experience I need for when I get older,” Thor said.
Thor finished first among Eagle men in every race this past season, a feat that impressed head coach Chris Zeller.
“I think the sky’s the limit [for David],” Zeller said. “It’s going to be up to him just how much he wants to work and how much he wants to put into it. I’m definitely not going to put a cap on where he’s going to be because I think he’s just got a ton of talent.”
Penaloza, who helped lead her high school to a Washington state 4A championship in 2011, also finished first in every race among EWU women, a feat that she described as “amazing.”
“It was a good feeling,” Penaloza said.
Zeller said Penaloza has continued to improve since first becoming an Eagle. “It wasn’t until this fall that she really kind of started to come into her own.”
He added, “She’s only going to keep getting better.”
Paul Limpf, a former EWU cross country runner who now helps Zeller as an assistant coach, sees himself as a mentor to Thor and Penaloza, as well as the rest of the athletes.
“Throughout the season I feel like I’ve been more of that kind of person that they can look up to and look for advice because I’ve been there and I’ve competed at that level,” Limpf said.
Limpf is the last EWU runner to qualify for nationals, doing so in 2008 and finishing as the top individual in the region as well as 11th overall. The winner of the 2008 nationals, Galen Rupp from University of Oregon, recently won the silver medal in the 10,000 meter event in the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
“It’s an amazing experience,” Limpf said of nationals. “I really hope that over the next few years we can send more and more people and it’s not just a once in every 10 years type of deal.”
Zeller said Limpf’s recent familiarity with competing in regionals helps him to relate with Thor and Penaloza. “That’s so beneficial,” Zeller said. “I’m really excited that he’s here. He was right where they’re at when he was a freshman, just kind of finding his way.
“He had to go through some growing pains during his five years here, but by the end he had it all figured out.”
Limpf described Thor as a very coachable runner. “He’s a kid who still wants to learn,” Limpf said. “He wants to take advice. He’s still learning.”
When asked how much experience he has in the 10,000-meter race, Thor replied, “Zilch.” He added that the 8,000-meter race is pretty similar to the 10,000, just with an added 2,000 meters.
“I kind of have to start from somewhere,” Thor said.