Matador of the Week: Daniel Rodriguez

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CSUN Athletics Department

Sophomore Daniel Rodriguez of the CSUN men’s cross-country team runs at the Anteater Opener on Sept. 1, 2022, in Irvine, Calif.

Benjamin Miller, Reporter

CSUN men’s cross-country athlete Daniel Rodriguez earned Matador of the Week honors after a strong performance in the Waves Invitational on Saturday, Oct. 1.

Rodriguez crossed the finish line with a time of 27 minutes, 4 seconds, placing third overall in the 8K race. His elite pace and strong mentality helped CSUN hold off second-place Pepperdine University, giving the men’s cross-country team its first victory in a decade.

This was Rodriguez’s first top-three finish in a Matadors uniform, but he is hungry for more. Proud to have performed at a high level, Rodriguez sets high expectations for himself and wants to continue striving for greater heights.

“It feels great. I feel like I could have won, but I think I might have gotten to myself towards the end of the race. Just knowing that my team was depending on me to place high kept driving me forward,” Rodriguez said. “There’s no pressure on me though. I want to place high.”

His expeditious finish certainly tilted the scales in favor of a Matadors victory, but he could not have pulled it off alone. Rodriguez points to teamwork as the reason behind the team’s first win since 2012, and for good reason.

Two Matadors, James Moore and Atticus Hall, finished in the top 10, with another three runners landing in the top 20. This well-rounded effort pushed CSUN to the finish line and earned them the win, improving their outlook moving forward.

“Felt great just seeing the team come together,” Rodriguez said. “Since last year I have seen a huge improvement in how we came together as a team. It’s a big step in the right direction.”

Finishing first as a team is no easy feat, especially in the Waves Invitational. The course sits in front of the Malibu campus right on the Pacific Coast Highway, leaving it exposed to strong winds coming from the oceanfront. The terrain is especially difficult to handle, with runners having to traverse rolling hills, heavy patches of grass and tilted landscapes. Faced with the grueling conditions, the Rodriguez-led Matadors managed to overcome the odds and advance to the finish.

“Everything that day was kind of against us, especially with the wind,” the sophomore said. “There was like half a mile of slanted grass we had to run on that led straight on to a huge hill that was extremely thick in grass and made it really painful to run up to. Having all that thrown against us and our team still being able to win was a huge accomplishment on our end.”

Although this top-three finish was Rodriguez’s first at CSUN, he is no stranger to winning. An accomplished high school athlete in his own right, Rodriguez claimed the title of Golden League Champion in cross-country four times. He is the first and only runner from Highland High to achieve this feat. He won two more Golden League championships in track and field in the 800-, 1600- and 3200-meter runs. Before graduating, Rodriguez was crowned Highland High School’s Athlete of the Year for the 2021 season.

Even as a sophomore, Rodriguez has lofty goals for his remaining years running cross-country at CSUN. He strives to grow as a runner and set school- and conference-wide records of his own one day, with a few specific ones in mind.

“Hopefully breaking the men’s 8K record at CSUN, and maybe a top-five finish at Big West,” Rodriguez said.

Sasha Vujic set the Matadors’ 8K record in 1991, finishing the Cal Poly Pomona Invite with a time of 24:05. Rodriguez ran the 8K Highlander Invitational in 2021 for a time of 24:45.7, which landed him seventh in the record books.

The Matadors will travel to Santa Clara University next for the Bronco Invitational on Oct. 15.