It’s the culmination of all the hard work, long hours, drops of sweat, sore muscles, and runs in the rain. The UCSB track and field team will compete in the Big West Championships this week, held at UC Irvine. While the meet begins today, the Gauchos do not have any participants until Friday.

“We want to finish the season with our best performances. We can’t control the other teams, but we can control what we do and how we follow our plan,” Assistant Coach Jeff Jacobs said.

The team has been training for this highlight since September and hopes to peak on Friday and Saturday. Sixty-four Gauchos, 32 men and 32 women, will compete, the maximum number allowed from each team. The women are ranked third behind powerhouses University of Idaho and Cal State Northridge, but an upset is not out of the picture. For the men, a top three finish would be ideal, but fourth or fifth is more likely. However, for both teams, this year’s finish is expected to be an improvement from last year. In 2003, the men took sixth and the women have the potential this year to double last year’s team score.

The intense training is not the only thing the Gauchos have going for them. The team is the definition of school spirit and a loud, cheering crowd always helps the adrenaline flow.

“Last year, we had a fun time with the ThunderStix and made a lot of noise,” Jacobs said. “We always get team cheers going. Most athletes get really fired up and it helps a lot.”

For the women, senior Jasmine Washington in the sprints, sophomore Amy Haapanen in the throws, and senior Cosette Smith in the distance events will carry the bulk of the points. Washington is favored in the 400 meter and the 200, and will play a big role in the success of UCSB’s relays. Haapanen is ranked first in the hammer and shot put and is ranked high in the discus. However, she will receive tough competition from improving opponents.

“There are some athletes getting closer to her. It should be good quality competitions,” Jacobs said. “She’s ready and will rise to the occasion.”

For middle distance, sophomores Lauren and Lindsay Christman will compete in the 800. Lauren will also run the 400 and Lindsay will be key in the 4×400 relay. Junior Desiree Leek will compete in the 1,500 and is ranked second going into the 5,000. Smith will also run the 5,000 and the 10,000.

“Leek is the key to our success in the 1500 and 5K. She’s run really well this year and has a national caliber time in the 5K,” Jacobs said.
The women’s relays look to be exciting events. The 4×100 team posted a time very close to favorite Northridge’s and could potentially knock them out of the top spot, especially with Washington running. The 4×400, once again featuring Washington, is ranked second and has a good chance of taking first.

“We’re third behind Idaho and Northridge. We could double our team score from last year. It would be a huge improvement. To win would be a tremendous upset. For us to be so close shows what we have done,” Jacobs said.

For the men, the meet should be equally exciting. Freshman Nick Cunningham has been a consistent competitor in the sprints all season. He has the potential to finish in the top three in the 200 and earn all-conference accolades as a freshman, a tremendous honor. His competition in the 100 will be tougher, but he still has the chance of making the finals. Also, his role as lead-off for the 4×400 is a vital one.

“The 4×400 should be exciting. We have close relay times with Irvine, Cal Poly, and Idaho. It will be all of us coming down the final stretch,” Jacobs said.

The men count on a one-two finish from junior Ben Armel and sophomore Tetlo Emmen in the 800. Both men posted times seconds ahead of the competition. Emmen also plays an important role in the 4×400 and recently set a new personal best in both the 800 and 400.
UCSB will enter several runners in the 1,500, lead off by freshman Mike Chavez, who is ranked eighth. The Gauchos will receive the most competition from rival Cal Poly.

“As a freshman, he’s got a good chance of scoring, which is a big deal in distance,” Jacobs said. “We’re also entering him in the 5K, which he hasn’t run all year but he’s got a chance as a dark horse.”

Senior Chris White has the best chance of winning the 5,000 and posts the second best time behind Ryan Moorcroft of Cal Poly. He will not run the 10,000 as per usual so he will be rested for the 5,000.

“We want White fresh for the 5K at the end of the meet. Most athletes run other events so they are tired by Saturday. We feel Chris has a real chance of winning,” Jacobs said.

Junior Jeff Gardina is ranked first in the 10,000 and is the favorite to win. Jacobs expects it to be a good race with Utah State providing the biggest challenge.

“We look for improvement for the men. Last year we were sixth so improvement is likely. We’re going in the right direction,” Jacobs said.