All bets are off for Moorpark College’s top sophomore distance runner as pandemic cuts season short

Image+courtesy+of+Moorpark+College+XC+%26+Track+Instagram.

Image courtesy of Moorpark College XC & Track Instagram.

By Danny Stipanovich

Just one month ago, Robby Riggs, Moorpark’s top long-distance sophomore runner, was on his way back home to Simi Valley from Turlock, CA. That was until the rest of Moorpark’s Track and Field season was postponed indefinitely and eventually canceled entirely due to concerns over COVID-19.

The future was bright coming off yet another season personal record of 15:49 in the 5K at the Kim Duyst Invitational. Riggs was on a roll, continuing to shatter his previous season PR each consecutive race. It seemed as if only an injury would stop him from competing for a state championship representing the Moorpark College Raiders.

Image courtesy of Moorpark College XC & Track Instagram.
Image courtesy of Moorpark College XC & Track Instagram.

“My marks were showing that I was going to do something pretty incredible this season,” Riggs said. “I would’ve been able to put up way better times and now I can’t showcase how good I am.”

News broke on March 19 that the California Community College Athletic Association unanimously voted to cancel spring competition and to restore a season of play for spring athletes.

Just like that, Riggs’ season was suddenly disqualified. Weeks of training 65 to 70 miles dedicated to earning a Division I scholarship, washed down the drain.

In his four opening races, Riggs set a 12-second mile PR (4:14), finished eight seconds behind a state champion in the 3K and was on pace for a 44 second PR in the 5K by the end of the season.

Moorpark Track and field on
Moorpark track and field on Tuesday, March 23 at Moorpark College Photo credit: Evan Reinhardt

Moorpark’s Cross Country and Track and Field Head Coach Traycie Kephart expected Riggs to take Moorpark to the State Championship this season.

“His race strategy and patience was improving. He was seeing how races unfold and he could control that aspect,” Kephart said. “That convinced us he was ready to be a top contender at State.”

He was on pace for a 15:00 PR in the 5K. Putting his time up against the best, in 2019, Riggs would have finished in sixth place in the state behind Jose Melchor of Mt. San Antonio College.

“His training indicated a low 15 minute time. In practice, he was consistently hitting that 72-second pace. In races, we targeted that pace and he had hit nine laps, three to go,” Kephart said.

Once it is safe for the NCAA to uplift their ban on recruiting due to the COVID-19 virus, recruiters scouting community college transfers only have their freshman times to judge. Unfortunately for Riggs, his freshman bid is littered with underwhelming times.

He struggled with the adjustment of a new coaching staff and college atmosphere while his newfound motivation did not hit him until the end of track season last year.

“I wish I would’ve taken that first year a little bit more serious,” Riggs said.

Riggs’ sophomore campaign had a slow start after fighting through a lingering sprained ankle injury in fall 2019, preventing him from tapping into his full potential during the Cross Country season. Track season was his last opportunity to show he deserved a Division I scholarship and that fifteen years of running were all worth the distance.

Ahmed Hamza, a sophomore on Moorpark’s Cross Country and Track team and a teammate of Riggs for the past 13 years, was a first-hand witness to his recent excellence on the track.

“He was hitting the numbers really well and training really well to get to that scholarship,” Hamza said of his childhood friend.

The two met in grade school running for a track club, The Running Rebels, and their friendship carried on into high school at Simi Valley High School.

“Robby (Riggs) and Drake (Nienow) were the two guys that were going to get the scholarship and now they probably can’t,” Hamza said.

Riggs and Hamza have stuck together since they were 8 years old, 2020 is now the year where their paths will split ways. Riggs expressed doubt in using another spring season of eligibility because he will finish his AA in Business after this semester, while Hamza’s journey will take a different turn. Hamza plans on returning to Moorpark next year for one last chance to earn a D-I scholarship.

“There’s like five to six races that we’re not going to be able to race. I definitely think we should get another year of eligibility,” Hamza said before the CCCAA granted an extra season for spring athletes.

Although in self-quarantine, Riggs has not hit the wall just yet as he continues to keep up the tempo, on a mission to prove that he can run with the top athletes in the country. CSUF, CSULB and CSUN are his top three destinations to walk on.

“(Cross country) means everything. I put it above my school. I put it above literally everything,” Riggs said, planning to take over the family real-estate business after two years at a Division I university.

While the future is still up in the air, Riggs bets that his ongoing 15-year runner high will earn him a spot on Cal State Fullerton’s Cross Country team in the fall of 2020.