In cross country, this time of year a new personal best time can mean everything. With state-qualifying regional competition less than two weeks away, Hotchkiss senior Sam Rodriguez couldn't be happier with last Friday's performance at the Delta Pantherfest invitational meet. In a field of 124 runners, Rodriguez finished eighth. His time of 16 minutes, 47.73 seconds was a new personal record and the senior's first sub-17-minute time ever. "I'm pretty happy with that," said Rodriguez. With regional competition two weeks away, "I'm right where I thought I'd be."
Rodriguez has battled illnesses since mid-September and just last week felt like it's behind him. On Friday he had "a tiny bit left" heading for the finish line. Once he heard head coach Kelly Cowan and his dad yelling, "I said ok, I've just got to push myself through this. Not sure where it came from."
He passed at least two runners, including friend and competitor, John Ames, who set a new personal best time of 16:50.41 to place 10th.
Rodriguez, a senior, is strongly considering running in college.
"It's one of those 'Wow!' moments," said Coach Cowan. "Now he's starting to feel better, and his improvement in both track and cross country over the last year and a half "is remarkable," said Cowan. "And is starting to show just what he's capable of... He's very capable of running at the collegiate level."
This year's number of teams and runners at Pantherfest far exceeded past races. Cowan said the field was definitely bigger and more competitive than in the past -- about 40 more runners in each division, and included teams that they typically don't see until regional or state meets.
In looking to the final weeks of the season, Cowan said that all of his runners are showing consistent improvement in the last two weeks and demonstrating that they should peak in time for the Oct. 20 regional meet. Freshman Kenny Drbohlav finished the 5,000-meter race in 19:24.05, followed by Tevin Keller's time of 19:26.80, and Will Ela's time of 19:34.92.
On the girls' side, Hannah Hatheway placed 48th out of 117 runners with a time of 22:07.49, a full 35 seconds faster than last year's time.
Mariah Griffith placed 67th in a personal best 23:12.92, Grace Hatheway finished in 24:10.38 and Isabella Spano crossed the finish line in 24:14.33.
Hotchkiss will run its final regular meet of the season this Thursday at Rifle.
Delta's second annual "Kickoff to Christmas" takes place Saturday, Nov. 25. This event is sponsored by the Delta Area Chamber of Commerce and First Colorado National Bank.