Surprise Awaited Smelley at the Nationball Classic

Submitted by: Ron Smith - September 4th, 2016


Start of the 2016 Nationball Classic at Chase Palm Park.

Start of the 2016 Nationball Classic at Chase Palm Park.

Westmont Cross Country opened the 2016 season by hosting Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) on Saturday in the Nationball Classic at Santa Barbara’s Chase Palm Park. The annual event has become a tradition for both teams that includes not just a cross country race, but a friendly game of nationball (or dodge ball). This year, the event included a surprise for Westmont’s head coach Russell Smelley.

Before the race began, Smelley was unexpectedly greeted by nine members of the 1996 Westmont Men’s Cross Country team. They came to run in the race and to renew memories of comradery from 20 years ago.

The group included 1996 graduates Paul Ashby, Jim Drake, Todd Farrington and Philip Livingood and Matt Nealon; Matt Thomson from the class of 1997; and 1998 alumni Andy Morales, Matt Pelascini and Kevin Sturm.

“I had a great time at Westmont and had a great time in particular running cross country and track,” said Livingood about his motivation for organizing the event. “Some of my best friends to this day are the guys from the team. We’ve been to each other’s wedding and seen each other’s kids grow up. (The Nationball Classic) seemed liked a great opportunity to try and get everyone together. Westmont is a setting that fosters deep relationship that can last a lifetime.

“Russell is still a mentor to this day,” continued Livingood. “Through the years, I have made it a point to stop by and try to have breakfast or lunch if I am passing from northern to southern California.”

Smelley admitted to being confused when the group first greeted him, but he clearly enjoyed the reunion of former athletes. The alums participate in the race and the rest of the day’s festivities before joining Smelley and his wife Alison for dinner later that evening.

Coach Russell Smelley with alumni from the 1996 Men's Cross Country team.

Coach Russell Smelley with alumni from the 1996 Men’s Cross Country team.

The competitive advantage in the cross country race typically leans in favor of CMS and this year was no exception. The racers, who numbered 112, ran in a single race that included men and women, current student-athletes and alumni of both institutions.

The starting line of the 4.2 mile course is a boulder east of Sterns Wharf that bears a in tile sign the name of the park. The course heads west, past the entrance to Sterns Wharf, continues past Ledbetter Beach and proceeds up the hill to Shoreline Park. The runners then double back and return to where they started.

CMS won both races decisively, claiming the men’s race 17-46 and the women’s 15-49.

While the cross country race is the main event, the nationball competition is no less intense. The format consists of three rounds – women against women, men against men and everyone in. This year, Westmont swept, winning all three rounds.