By Samantha Thompson
Saturday, Nov. 11 may have just been another day for most college students, but for UC Santa Cruz cross country runner Tamara Torlakson, it wasn’t just any other day. The junior from Antioch, California soared her way into Slug history as she became the first runner from UCSC to ever qualify for the NCAA DIII National Championships.
Torlakson set a personal and school record at the NCAA DIII West Region Championships in Chino, crossing the finish line of the 6K course (3.72 miles) in 23:14.
"We came up with a race plan in the weeks before the race and she ran that plan to near perfection," coach Adam Boothe said.
From the start of the race, Torlakson kept pace with the leading pack of runners, staying between 12th and 16th place until the last 100 meters where she found herself in 11th place and in sight of the finish line.
"It’s a whole different feeling knowing that you’re running the most important race of your season," Torlakson said. "I knew if I wanted a shot at nationals, I would have to finish in the top 10."
Torlakson managed to push past one more runner and secured a 10th place finish. Torlakson became the seventh and final individual qualifier out of the West region for nationals, which, according to coach Boothe, was the hardest region in the nation to qualify for as an individual.
"I’m glad I could represent UC Santa Cruz," said Torlakson. "I feel honored to be the first one to go [to nationals]."
The women’s cross country team as a whole also ran a tough race at regionals and finished in 10th place overall. Though the team was somewhat disappointed with the finish, coach Boothe proudly pointed out that every girl ran hard and that no one gave up.
"This is by far the best team we’ve ever had and the best season we’ve ever had," Boothe said. "They are fired up to get some revenge next year at regionals. I’m really looking forward to next year already."
After receiving word of qualifying, Torlakson, the team captain, headed off to the national competition in Westchester. Amidst the thousands of spectators, nervous coaches and anxious runners was the unbelievable sight of the course-one of the fastest cross country courses-soaked with water and ankle-deep mud. Pumps ran during the race, trying to drain water from the course as quickly as possible.
"The whole race was a struggle just not to fall," Torlakson said. "Everyone was just battling to keep running and stay upright."
According to coach Boothe, the condition of the course made it nearly impossible to pass people once the race started.
"We didn’t go into the race with any goals or expectations," Boothe said. "We just wanted her to get the experience."
Torlakson, one of only two California runners in the race, finished 172 overall, out of a little under 300 people.
Torlakson was Boothe’s first recruit in his first year with the program and he has seen her incredible dedication, leadership and hard work pay off this year.
"She’s a really good leader," sophomore and teammate Devon Orme said to City on a Hill Press in an earlier interview. "She happens to be our No. 1 runner but she doesn’t forget about the people who may be in the back."
With Torlakson’s success, Boothe believes that the rest of the girls are now seeing nationals as a tangible goal for the team and that it is just going to make them want it that much more.
"Believing in what you’re doing is a big part in succeeding in it," Torlakson said. "I couldn’t have done it without the coaching and my extremely supportive teammates."
Torlakson and the rest of the women’s crossc country team are now in their only three-week break of the year before returning to train and begin preparations for the track and field season.
"We’re still taking steps forward overall as a program," Boothe said. "We’re still moving forward in a positive direction."