Westmont head coach Russell Smelley took three of his NAIA All-American runners up to the bay area this weekend to compete against NCAA Div. I competition. At the Stanford Invitational. Zola Sokhela, Adam King, and Jack Vanden Heuvel all competed against some of the nation’s best.
“I wanted to have nationals-like experience for these guys,” said Smelley. “I wanted this to push them to run better in a challenging situation.”
Sokhela put on the most impressive showing of any Warrior, finishing ahead of the pack in both the 1500 and 800 meter run. In the 1500, Sokhela ran a time of 3:46.49, which placed him ahead of 10 other competitors in his heat. The athletes that Sokhela finished ahead of represented schools such as UCLA, Boise State, Cal Poly, and Arkansas.
In the 800, Sokhela ran in the second section of the race and came in first with a time of 1:50.70. As the sophomore looks to defend his national titles in both races, each of his times in the 1500 and 800 were once again ahead of the NAIA Outdoor A-Standard.
“Zola ran tactically very well,” offered Smelley. “He knew where he was at and made his move to win the race at a good time. He is capable of running faster, but he did the job.”
Also competing in the 800 meter run for the Warriors was Vanden Heuvel. In the fifth section of the race, Vanden Heuvel finished the race in third place out of six competitors, coming in ahead of one of Stanford’s own. Most notably, Vanden Heuvel came in a blink behind the NAIA A-Standard of 1:52.50 as the freshman posted a time of 1:52.70.
However, Vanden Heuvel earned a B-Standard qualifying time.
“Jack is doing really well,” noted Smelley. “He ran a one-second personal best. He came off the turn thinking he was going to win the race, and while two guys out-ran him, he didn’t fold or give him. He just kept going.”
Also earning a B-Standard qualifying time for the Warriors was King, in the 1500 meter run. In the sixth section of the race, King came in with a time of 3:55.25, which placed him fourth out of seven competitors. King came in ahead of competitors from Boise State and North Dakota, and came in ahead of the NAIA B-Standard time of 3:56.50.
“Adam ran a solid race,” began Smelley, “but the most important thing is he learned what he needs to do to get to the next level. He owned that, he was able to define that, and I think he was able to make a commitment to it in a way he hadn’t before.”
While the focus of the trip was the trio of men competing against top-tier talent, Smelley and the Warriors also got to cross paths with past legends of Westmont Track.
“We got to see Scott Camp, a 1985 graduate, who was the fastest 800 runner I’ve coached up until Zola,” shared Smelley. “I had a really nice time with Scott, and he got to meet the guys. Eric Williams showed up as well, who held the 1000 until all four of those guys broke it, and Eric got to meet the guys as well.
“Between the two of them, getting to connect the past to the future was really nice.”
Camp ran the fastest 800 by a Warrior since 1985, until Sokhela jumped him on the leaderboard in April of 2021.
Williams held the school record in the men’s 1000 until February 12 of this year, when a quartet of Warriors finished ahead of the previous record in a single race. Sokhela, Vanden Heuvel, King, and Jason Peterson were the Warriors who dislodged Williams from the top spot.
Smelley’s trio and the rest of the Warriors return to competition on Saturday, April 9, when they take part in the Pomona-Pitzer Invitational in Claremont.
Jacob Norling is the sports information assistant at Westmont College.