michael mullady

As a San Luis Obispo native, cross country runner Rachel Valliere didn’t think she would stay local for college, much less race after high school.

Now a junior (but a sophomore eligibility-wise after redshirting last year), Valliere has become the leader of the women’s cross country team. She was the highest placed Mustang at last weekend’s VS Athletics/ Cal Poly Invitational, finishing in 10th place.

“She’s very dedicated and disciplined and wants to do well,” cross country coach Mark Conover said. “And those are all traits that make for an excellent runner and excellent student at Cal Poly. She’s matured into taking a real leadership role with the team, which is very important.”

Valliere didn’t start running cross country until her senior year at San Luis Obispo High School.

“I ran track for four years in high school but I was just on JV,” Valliere said. “I wasn’t very good or anything. Then my junior year track season I did pretty well and the coach was like, ‘Hey you should come out for cross country.’”

At the time, Valliere was playing tennis and the season conflicted with cross country. But Valliere gave the new sport a try and decided she liked it better.

She quickly became acknowledged as a cross country runner in her senior year, placing fourth in CIF and 15th in state. She was also named the top female athlete of her school.

“As the end of track season approached, I thought, well, I don’t want to be done running. I want to run at college somewhere,” Valliere said. “So that was definitely a factor when I was looking at schools, but it wasn’t my number one reason.”

Valliere said she is very close with her family and for that reason, knew she wanted to stay in California. She was drawn to Cal Poly for its kinesiology program and the interest the track and cross country coaches had in her.

“I prayed about it a lot so it’s where God wanted me to go to school,” Valliere said. “Opened and closed doors, you know?”

Valliere not only competes for the women’s cross country team, but for Cal Poly’s track team as well. Having such a heavy schedule, which usually includes running several miles every day, hasn’t put too much of a strain on her personal life.

“Being a student-athlete requires a lot of discipline,” Valliere said. “I’ve been a student-athlete pretty much my whole life coming from high school to college. But it’s all about priorities and balancing life and what you think is important.”

Valliere had to redshirt last year’s cross country season when knee problems prevented her from running. She said, however, that not being able to run allowed her to progress even more as a person.

“This is going to kind of seem against the stereotypical view but since I redshirted last year, I still feel like I accomplished a lot – obviously not in running because I wasn’t able to run – but just my character as a person and perseverance and patience,” Valliere said. “Being an athlete, it’s hard physically. You work your body for however many hours a day – but there’s so much more to it than just physical pain. There’s so much mental focus that goes on.”

Conover added that, while not having one of his “top runners” was detrimental, allowing Valliere time to advance personally was important.

“She went through a lot going through that process and I think it made her mature as a result,” he said.

Conover said that Rachel’s personality adds a unique aspect to the team.

“Rachel shows a politeness and a discipline in her demeanor that people can learn from: Never letting emotions get the best of you and keeping an even keel to reach your goals with a calm peace of mind,” Conover said.

In addition to leading the Mustangs last weekend, Valliere also led the team earlier this month at the UC Riverside Invitational. In that race, Valliere was the highest ranking Mustang when she earned eighth place.

Whether Valliere will turn professional after graduation is something she said is too soon to call. But she said that if the opportunity comes up later on, she might consider the option.

“I feel like that’s a long ways away,” Valliere said of the decision to turn pro. “I still have two more cross country seasons after this. And right now I’m not fast enough, so I’d have to improve quite a bit. Right now I’m not really thinking about it.”

The next race for Valliere and the team will be on Oct. 29 at the Big West Conference Championships, hosted by UC Riverside.

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