With the Big West Tournament less than a month away, the UCSB men’s and women’s track teams have their sights set on the Mt. S.A.C. Invitational.

The invitational, running today through Sunday in Walnut, Calif., will feature some of the best athletes from around the world. The event welcomes only those individuals who have posted outstanding times this season, including UCSB distance runners seniors Katie Appenrodt and J.T. Service. With only a portion of the team heading to the Mt. S.A.C., the rest of the squad will be competing at the Pomona Invitational, beginning this afternoon. The Gauchos are scheduled to face some stiff competition, but Appenrodt welcomes the challenge.

“We meet against the best teams in our conference,” Appenrodt said. “Stanford, UCLA and BYU will all be there, but it gives us a chance to compete at the highest level.”

Service will start his portion of the invitational by competing in his best event, the men’s steeplechase, on Thursday night. Service finished second in the Big West Championships last year with a time of 9:03.55 and hopes to run even better this weekend.

“Being that it is my last year, I’m holding myself to some pretty high standards,” Service said. “I’d love to run in the low 9:00s.”

Performing well is no mystery to either of the UCSB track and field teams. The men’s and women’s teams got off to blazing starts this season. Both squads have worked extremely hard and, after winning their season openers, haven’t looked back.

“We’re a young team, but we’ve bonded and the enthusiasm has been there all season,” Appenrodt said.

Santa Barbara understands the importance of performing well in the Mt. S.A.C. Invitational. After this weekend it has just three meets to prepare for the all-important Big West Championships, held at CSUN, and the NCAA Regionals and Championships in Sacramento, following closely behind.

“It’s very important to do well and to be confident,” Service said. “Once you get that confidence you feel unstoppable.”

The UCSB track and field teams have a huge challenge ahead. The Gauchos will undoubtedly need sophomore distance runner Diana Quinones to come up big.

“We have confidence, motivation to improve, and we know that we can perform,” Quinones said.