SANTA CLARITA, Calif. – The Cal State Fullerton men's and women's cross country squads finished fourth and seventh, respectively, at the Mustang Challenge on Saturday, but it was improved times from a year ago that impressed head coach John Elders.
"Jose Penaloza put himself in a great position early by running with the leading group, and he stayed there the whole race and competed well," Elders said. "Jose improved his time from last year by over 30 seconds, and Sierra Ungerman had the strongest cross country race of her career, while Emily Taylor improved her time by 10 seconds from a year ago."
Racing at Central Park in Santa Clarita, Calif., Penaloza finished the 8k course with a time of 25:28.55 good for eighth place. For Penaloza, it was the second time this season that he was the first Titan to cross the finish line.
He was followed by seniors Tim Reed (26:04.82) and Jeff Little (26:05.31), who completed the race in 25th and 26th respectively. For Little, his time was over a minute better than his 2014 performance.
Joe Casco was the fourth Titan to complete the men's course in a time of 26:27.73 in 43rd place, while freshman Anthony Alfaro placed 54th with a time of 26:43.77. In 62nd place, freshman Sam Pimentel crossed the finish line at 26:52.27, and junior Martin Montes followed in 79th with a time of 27:09.30.
A year ago, Fullerton's average time was 26:23.6, while this season the men shaved over 13 seconds off at 26:10.04.
The Titans' 136 points placed fourth behind UCLA (38), Loyola Marymount (69), and Cal State San Marcos (70), but ahead of Grand Canyon (170), Cal Baptist (193), Pomona-Pitzer (200), The Master's College (219), Westmont (233), Occidental (285), Embry-Riddle Arizona (292), Biola (299), Redlands (361), Cal Lutheran (406), UC Irvine (418), Caltech (422), CSU Channel Islands (565) and Dominican (575).
Myles Smith of UCLA placed first (25:00.68).
"Overall the women's squad, comparing times from last year, ran significantly better, so that is a positive sign," Elders said. That being said, there are a handful of runners that can run better than we are right now. We are fighting some colds and are not 100 percent, so we are expecting to run stronger later this season. For the men, we improved in our packing behind Jose. We are not where we need to be yet, but definitely an improvement from the Covert Classic."
The women finished seventh with a total of 213 points as junior newcomer Sierra Ungerman set the pace for the Titans with a 19th place finish and a time of 18:19.92 on the 5k course. She was followed by the 36th-place finish of senior Emily Taylor with a time of 18:42.11.
Junior newcomer Nisreen Rizk completed the course in a time of 19:08.61 in 64th place for the Titans fifth score. In addition, Stephanie Cortez (100th; 19:43.49), Emily Ruiz (114; 19:58.52), Marissa Pluma (116; 20:01.24), Kevelin Huerta (122; 20:03.93), Abby Buckhoff (150; 20:41.54) and Ruby Rodriguez (151; 20:41.98) also competed for the Titans.
A year ago, Fullerton's average time was 19:04.4, and the Titans topped that today with an average finish of 18:51.34.
With five top-20 finishes – including three in the top-10 – Loyola Marymount won the women's race with a score of 36. The Lions were followed by UCLA (94), Biola (119), The Master's College (125), Grand Canyon (155), Cal State San Marcos (168), Cal State Fullerton (213), Westmont (217), UC Irvine (269), Cal Baptist (326), Redlands (334), Occidental (363), Embry-Riddle Arizona (455), Dominican (455), CSU Bakersfield (460), Cal Lutheran (480), Pomona-Pitzer (492), Caltech (590), CSU Channel Islands (630).
Danielle Shanahan of LMU placed first (17:23.18).
Cal State Fullerton will return to action in two weeks competing at the Rim Rock Farm Classic in Lawrence, Kan., as well as the Pomona-Pitzer Invitational in Claremont, Calif.