After successfully defending his national title in the men’s 800-meter run, Westmont’s Zola Sokhela has also defended a regional award honor.
For the second consecutive year, Sokhela has been named the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s NAIA Outdoor Track and Field West Region Track Athlete of the Year.
In 2021, Sokhela was not only named the West Region’s Track Athlete of the Year by the USTFCCCA, but also the overall NAIA Track Athlete of the Outdoor season.
“It was harder for Zola this year, said Westmont Head Coach Russell Smelley. “We talked about the ‘sophomore jinx’ and that it’s harder because people know who you are and they’re coming for you.”
This year, during outdoor season, Sokhela broke multiple Westmont records, some of his own, and others that had stood for decades.
In 2021, Sokhela broke a 49-year old program record in the 1500-meter run with a time of 3:44.62, knocking off Rick Tussing’s top time (3:45.54) from 1972. This year, on April 15, Sokhela dislodged his own record with a time of 3:42.31.
Going into this season, Tussing still held the Warriors’ all-time best mark in the 800 meter run, but Sokhela came back for more on April 14 of this season. Sokhela posted an 800-meter run time of 1:48.00, breaking Tussing’s record of 1:49.34 which was set in June of 1972.
“It was significant for Zola to break that 50-year old record,” said Smelley. “I had to let my good friend (Tussing) know that that record he was very proud of was broken. It was cool; Rick has been supportive.”
At Outdoor Nationals in May, Sokhela faced the tall task of defending both his national championships in the 1500 and the 800. During the 1500, Sokhela made the mistake of waiting too long to make his kick, and was passed on the final lap of the race, still earning All-American honors with a third-place finish.
A frustrated Sokhela held pride for the All-American finish while still unsatisfied. Then, in the final race of his sophomore campaign, Sokhela made his move. With a time of 1:51.04, Sokhela defended his national title in the 800 meter run.
“Zola came back from a difficult injury that happened just weeks prior to Outdoor Nationals,” said Smelley. “In the 1500 he ran well in his lap; he just could have pushed it earlier. The comeback was great. He reset, made it happen, and showed his character and depth. It was magnificent.”
Sokhela’s magnificent Westmont career will resume during the 2022-2023 school year.
Jacob Norling is the sports information assistant at Westmont College.