By Leonard COUTIN
Last weekend Mt. SAC hosted the sensational Foot Locker West Invitational that brought out talented runners from California, Utah, Washington and Montana. Each aspired to be in the top 10 places, which would allow them to be seeded at the National Championship Invitational that takes place Saturday, Dec. 12 at Balboa Park in San Diego. This championship race will bring the West Regional best against the three other sections in the country: Midwest Regional, Northeast Regional and South Regional.
Heading the charge for one of the spots was local Pacific League champion Arcadia Apache Phillip Rocha who already dominated both the CIF Division 1 Championship, and the CIF State Division 1 Championship.
Unlike the CIF course of 2.94 miles, all the runners ran the full 5K course at Mt. SAC. Garek Bielaczyc of Salt Lake City, Utah came out strong followed by Talon Hull of Ogden, Utah, then Rocha. Bunched tightly as they ran the first two loops of the course then headed up the switchbacks, it was one of the best races for spectators. The course finished on the track, which allowed spectators to witness the final 300 meters from the stadium stands.
Coming first into the stadium was Bielaczyc followed by Rocha who was back two strides. Rocha was determined to rapidly close the distance and passed Bielaczyc with 200 meters to go. Perhaps thinking the race was over, Rocha was surprised at the 180-meter point when Bielaczyc came quickly on him. Both athletes sprinted for the finish with Bielaczyc taking the win with a time of 15:21.61 followed by Rocha (15:27.12). Placing third was Hull (15:33.08). Flintridge Prep Division 5 champion Jack Van Scoter, who placed second in state, had the sixth fastest time of 15:44.
CVHS Falcons Philip Thomas and Colin FitzGerald decided to run this invitational not only for the learning experiences but also for the possibility of medaling in the top 20. Thomas got out to a great start but unfortunately FtizGerald had to jump over a falling runner at the beginning of the race, which affected his pace. Coming up to the first mile Thomas was in 16th position whereas FitzGerald was 24th. Heading down the paved course, Thomas looked eager to prove himself. Perhaps knowing that his father, Bobby Thomas, had run the national best time on the four-mile course when attending Glendale College, he too hoped to leave a permanent mark as a Falcon.
As a senior, Thomas changed his style of running. Learning from Coach Mark Evans and following some of his father’s direction, Thomas started to put in extra effort in his weekly workouts, doing double workouts to gain more strength and stamina. Unfortunately, he was injured just before the CIF finals, which hampered his ability to make the state meet. But at Foot Locker, he came from two weeks of rest, proving that he regained his strength to stand on the podium having placed 19th running 16:12.1.
Sophomore FitzGerald has had a very impressive season. Running in the state meet he learned to focus on positive thoughts to execute a solid race plan. Though sometimes overwhelmed by the competition, he has learned to run more confidently. Looking ahead, FitzGerald is preparing for track season. At Foot Locker he placed 27th with a time of 16:19.6.
Emily Virtue of Burroughs High School, who ranked second in Division 1 girls CIF meet and sixth in state a week ago, placed eighth at Foot Locker running 18:22.6. She will move onto Nationals.