LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Elon University men’s cross country senior Luis Vargas became the program’s first-ever NCAA Regional Champion with a first-place finish at the Southeast Regional Championships on Friday, Nov. 14, at the E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park.
Vargas won his sixth race of the season as the Angier, N.C., native ran a time of 30:05.78 in the men’s 10K run and became the Phoenix’s first-ever qualifier to the NCAA Cross Country National Championships. After finishing 22nd at last year’s regional, Vargas claimed his first championship by nearly 12 seconds over his closest competitor in a field of 231 runners.
“Luis ran a perfectly tactical race like we wanted,” said Elon head cross country coach Nick Polk. “He was in control through and about halfway at the 5K mark he decided to push and pull away from the field. He executed it perfectly and we’re excited about him becoming Elon’s first NCAA Cross Country qualifier.”
The Colonial Athletic Association cross country champion will look to become Elon’s first All-American when he competes at the national meet next Saturday, Nov. 22, in Terra Haute Ind. Vargas also competed on the same course in Terra Haute earlier this season in the NCAA Pre-Nationals where he had the eight-fastest time among all the men’s races featuring the top runners in the nation.
Vargas helped the maroon and gold men to a 19th place standing at the meet, a four-spot improvement over the last time the Phoenix competed as a team at the regional championships in 2012. Virginia won the men’s race in the 33-team field.
Fellow senior Ari Rothschild was the next runner to cross the line for the Phoenix men with his new personal-best time of 31:45.7 and placed 68th overall. Ryan Gwaltney was next for Elon with his time of 33:32.5 followed by Reed Payne and a time 33:48.4. Sam Geha (34:06.6), Adam Bernstein (34:11.7) and Carlos Andino (35:19.4) also competed for the Phoenix.
In the women’s 6K race, Elon established its highest finish ever at the meet with an eighth-place standing, improving one spot from a year ago. The Phoenix finished ahead of other notable schools such as Wake Forest, host Louisville, Kentucky, Clemson and South Carolina in the 38-team field. Current CAA foe William & Mary won the women’s title with 74 points.
“The women came out and ran a really solid race,” added Polk. “We always hoped to finish as high as we have and today we were able to do that with our highest finish ever in eighth. It was a really great race up front from No. 1 to No. 7.”
Senior Tereza Novotna was the first Elon runner to cross the finish line in the women’s race. The Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic, native broke her own school-record in the race with a time of 20:54.2.
Novotna finished 22nd at the regional meet, the highest finish ever for an individual in program history and became the Phoenix’s first All-Region performer. Jenny Gallagher clocked in a time of 21:02.63 – the second fastest in school history – and was 30th overall in the race.
Sophomore Kimberly Johansen finished third on the team with a time of 21:21.4, a new personal-best, and was 51st. Elyse Bierut also had a new personal-record time of 21:40.7 and was 67th. Emily Dunne trimmed nine seconds off her previous best as she finished with a new career-best of 21:50.8 and was 78th.
Two teams from each of nine regionals and the four fastest individuals not on those teams qualified for the NCAA meet at Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 22. Thirteen at-large teams will be chosen, and an NCAA committee also will pick two additional runners.