Palomar College’s newest coach is looking to put Comet’s cross country on the map.
Sonia Rodriguez is the new women’s cross country coach. A North County local, she brings years of experience competing in races and a history of developing top runners as a coach at the high school level.
Growing up in Oceanside and Vista, Rodriguez looked on as her older cousin and brother ran track in high school, eventually being recruited by her brother’s coach.
“My first year was really painful. I was the back of the pack,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez ran four years at Vista High School. She became their top runner her junior and senior years, winning CIF and placing 4th at the state championship. She was a Top 20 ranked runner in the state by the time she was ready for college.
Unfortunately, Rodriguez was never educated on the scholarship opportunities available to student athletes in college.
“My coach didn’t know much about the recruitment process or transitioning onto the next level… that’s why I take such a proactive stance in trying to help my athletes get to the next level,” Rodriguez said.
Making it onto UCI’s track and cross country team as a walk-on, she ran for two years before a car accident and subsequent back injury ended her career as a collegiate runner.
Rodriguez graduated in 2002 with a double major in Spanish and History and began a job as an administrative assistant for a local company. At the same time her old high coaches asked her if she’d be interested becoming an assistant coach back at Vista High.
It had been four years since she had the last run, but she jumped at the opportunity. Working two jobs for six years, Rodriguez never lost her love for cross country despite the long hours and challenges. She even coached through both of her pregnancies.
“I’d go into work super early, leave for like two and half hours or so, come back to work and finish the day off,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez arrives at Palomar with six years of cross country competition experience and another 13 years of coaching at the high school level and she plans on bringing all that experience to help push her athletes to be the best they possibly can be.
“That’s why I became very hands-on with my athletes, because I hit a certain point where I only knew so much,” Rodriguez said.
At the high school level, she has a history of developing runners able to compete at the collegiate level and succeed. Many of her student athletes have gone on to run for schools all over the state, some even going on to become top college runners.
“I’ve had the privilege to coach at least eight athletes who have gone on to compete at the university level on partial or full-ride scholarships,” Rodriguez said.
Coach Rodriguez believes in a hands-on, individualized styling of coaching aimed at helping them to continue to compete at the next level. She focuses on quality over quantity in training to avoid burning out her runners and extending their careers.
Freshman runner Marissa Talle has already enjoyed the coaching style of Rodriguez.
“If she knows we can do it, she’ll push us… you can tell she truly does care,” Talle said.
She currently also coaches at Mission Vista High School and expects to begin establishing recruiting ties with local high schools.
Athletic Director Scott Cathcart was excited to have a coach with a history of success and strong local ties.
“Sonia is well respected in this whole area, both at the high schools and the Cal State. She’s going to help make Palomar a destination,” Cathcart said.
Only being hired in August, Rodriguez has not had very much time to establish herself at Palomar yet. This year, she plans on learning the college level of competition and growing the women’s team that currently only has nine runners.
“It’s an adjustment. I have several freshmen coming in… [I want to] build on for next season… a year of adapting,” Rodriguez explained.
Coach Rodriguez replaces 10-year coach Jennifer Williams, who left a legacy of success including back to back women’s track and field PCACconference championships in 2015 and 2016.
“I hope to be here for a long time. I hope to be a part of the Palomar legacy,” Rodriguez said.
Men’s cross country coach Hugh Gerhardt summed up the addition of Sonia Rodriguez quite simply.
“Oh that’s easy, we got really lucky to hire her. She’s the brains of the operation,” Gerhardt laughed.
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