San Jose, Calif. – By virtue of his eighth place finish at the NCAA West Regional Cross Country Championship last week, sophomore Jose Piña has qualified for and will compete in the 2016 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championship this weekend.
“At this point it really hasn’t sunk in that I qualified,” said Piña. “I know that the competition will get even better this weekend, but I plan on having fun, like I did at (the regional race). Heading into that race I was hoping to go below 30 minutes, which would be a personal best, and to finish in the top-25.”
He accomplished both, running a 29:54.3 and finishing in eighth place.
“The morning of the race my right thigh was pretty tight,” Piña said. “I tried to massage it out at the hotel and before the race started, but once we got going I was okay. With two (kilometers) to go I was in a pretty good position and people were telling me to start kicking, but I kept to my plan. Then with 400 meters left, I started sprinting and caught a group that was in front of me.”
Piña is the first Spartan in 32 years to compete in the men’s national championship. In 1984 Daniel Gonzales qualified for SJSU in a time of 31:51.3. He crossed the line in 30:56.7 and 62nd place in the championship race, which was run on the Penn State University Blue Golf Course.
“It is a pretty amazing accomplishment to make it as an individual from any region,” head coach Brad Wick said, “but especially coming out of the West Region. Some years the NCAA might go as far as 20th place to make it, where this year they stopped at eighth. The individuals really shined at the (west) regional meet. It was an exceptional race by Jose to make it to nationals and it’s something that is really special.
“From this point on, everything is extra credit for him. It’s a huge bonus and there is no pressure on him at all, but at the same time you have to realize that this is an opportunity that might not come around again. So you want to enjoy it, but you also want to make the most of it. If he runs exactly they way he did last weekend, he could finish right very close to the top-40.”
The top-40 finishers earn All-American designation, something that Coach Wick sees as recognition of how far his program has come in just three years.
“(Having someone qualify for Nationals) lifts our program up a notch,” Wick said. “At this point we are training at a level to get people to the national meet. People need to know that Jose ran zero workouts by himself this year. He had three or four guys with him on every workout. Obviously they didn’t all finish in eighth, but we have a pack that is training to take a shot at making it to Nationals. That is a big step forward for us as a program.”
The Division I Cross Country Championship will be held on November 19, on the LaVern Gibson Cross Country Course at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center in Terre Haute, Indiana. The race gets under way at 9:00 a.m. (PT).
Live results for both the men’s and women’s championship races are available at http://www.ncaa.com/2016-cross-country-championship