Toby Qualls is making an impact on Placer High cross country team

New kid in town is making lots of Hillmen friends
By: Matthew Kimel / Journal sports editor
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It didn’t take Toby Qualls too long to become the leader of the pack.

Qualls, a senior at Placer High School who transferred this year from Mammoth Lakes, has gone from the new kid in town to a respected runner throughout the area after just one meet.

“Instantly after meeting Toby, I knew he would be a leader and I promoted him to captain,” Hillmen cross country coach Randall Fee said of Qualls. “He leads by example. He’s not one of those that talks a lot, but everybody respects him and his dedication to running. Even just having one race under his belt, he has the respect of a lot of runners at other schools.”

Last week, Qualls placed fourth overall at the Del Oro Twilight Cross County Invite, but would have liked to have finished higher. He led throughout most of the race and his time of 12 minutes, 52 seconds tied the previous record for the 2.5-mile course.

“Toby has been a great addition to our team,” Fee said. “I got a call about six weeks ago that (his family was) moving into the area. I met with his parents, and that was the first time I learned about Toby and his dedication to the sport of running.”

Qualls started appreciating running while living in Mammoth Lakes, which is about 40 miles southeast of Yosemite National Park. He spent most of his time running solo because he didn’t have a team.

The idea of having a group of athletes to run with is what led him to the foothills.

“I love Auburn,” he said. “I’m hanging out with kids during the weekend. I didn’t have that in my last town. I’d be isolated from what all the other kids did because I didn’t have a team. I was always running by myself except when (coach) Andrew (Kastor) would have me run with the Olympic athletes.”

In Mammoth Lakes, he trained with Kastor, whose wife, Deena Kastor, won a bronze medal at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games in the 10,000-meter race.
Qualls credits Andrew Kastor — along with the high altitude he used to live in — for helping him become the runner he is today.

“I had to give up altitude to come here because of the team effort,” he said. “Finally I get to run with people. It pushes me to run faster.”

Though Qualls was quite surprised to be named a team captain, he hopes he can push his teammates, too.

“You can’t really push yourself when you’re by yourself,” he said. “It’s hard to go past the pace you’re setting. With a team, you have others pushing you to go faster.”

In the spring season, Qualls will compete for the Hillmen’s track and field team. His specialty is the two mile, with a personal best of 9:48.

Qualls also excels in the classroom.

His GPA is around a 4.4, and he’s taking five advanced placement courses, which he said are pretty easy.

He has dreams of running at Stanford. Brown University is currently expressing interest in him, though he wouldn’t mind running for a UC school either. He’d like to major in design in college.

“His potential is unlimited,” Fee said. “Our goal is lowering his times and getting him on the radar screen of collegiate coaches.”

So far at Placer High, Qualls has found everything he’s been seeking.

“I was looking for a team that actually had a team,” he said. “Up in Mammoth Lakes, I’d train by myself a lot of the time. I was looking for a good team to go to. A lot of my relatives live in Grass Valley and Roseville. Over the summer I ran with the team and started bonding with them.  I love this team.”

And his team loves him, too.

“He just has a magnetic personality where instantly he’s friends with everybody he meets,” Fee said. “He’s been a real positive to the team.”

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