The UCSB men’s and women’s track and field teams have endured significant pain this season but are counting on a year full of hard work to pay off at the 2003 Big West Track and Field Championships starting today and running through Saturday at Northridge.

The men’s squad qualified 30 athletes, and the women qualified 26 competitors to the championships, each trying to represent Santa Barbara to the fullest while looking to post times good enough to earn invitations to the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Sacramento.

“It’s a pretty well-rounded roster; we have a good distribution of athletes in most of the events,” UCSB Assistant Coach Jeff Jacobs said.

Winning the Big West title may be out of reach for both squads as each has posted in the middle of the pack at 2003 tournaments, but maximum efforts are certainly expected from the Gauchos.

“We know our strengths and weaknesses. On paper we are a mid-pack team; we are not favored to win, or to get last,” UCSB Head Coach Pete Dolan said. “Our competitors at the top are very good, but we’re going to go out there and fight for every spot.”

The women will be strong in the distance events. Fifth year senior and captain Katie Appenrodt leads Santa Barbara. She owns the fastest times in the 1500 and 5000 meters in the conference this season and was named Big West Female Track and Field Athlete of the Week last week.

“We have put in a lot of work this season. We showed that we could compete at a high level this season by beating Cal Poly,” Appenrodt said.

The women’s program has been steadily improving over the past few years and this week’s championships are a chance to improve the program even more.

“The program has been bringing in people who are willing to work hard. We have been blessed with runners who have heart and determination,” Appenrodt said. “I’m really proud how the team has done this year. I’m very optimistic about the Big West.”

Senior Deborah Samson will look to dominate in the pole vault. Samson is the school record holder in the event and currently ranks second in the Big West. Samson has been the runner up twice the past couple years at the Championship and would love to snag the Big West title in her final campaign. Freshman thrower Amy Haapanen is also a key member. She has the potential to place very high in three events. She holds the school record in the shot put and ranks second on the all-time UCSB list in the hammer and discuss.

The men’s team strengths lie in the distance events, but the squad’s throwers are equally gifted. The throwers squad is comprised of senior Cheyne Murray, junior Richie Alpers, sophomore Ryan Lockner and freshmen Eugene Bradley, Matt Mettler and Tyler Smith, and is considered one of the best in the conference.

“I think the whole team will do well at conference,” Murray said. “It is one of the most inspirational teams you can have. We’re a real team, we are very unified.”

Junior middle distance Nohel Corral will look to have a strong showing also. He currently ranks fourth in the conference in the 400 meters. Freshman Tetlo Emmen ranks fourth in conference in the 800 meters.

The Gaucho program is not as well funded as some of their Big West rivals but maintains that a positive attitude and work ethic can overcome any amount of financial disadvantage.

“This [men’s and women’s] team has the best attitude that I have ever coached,” Dolan said. “They are really committed to a team concept. They don’t complain, they compete.”