If the UCSB men’s and women’s track team proved one thing this weekend at the Big West Championships, it’s that team spirit can make a difference.

On Friday and Saturday, the Gauchos competed in the Big West Championships at UC Irvine to tremendous Gaucho cheers and team support. The women finished fourth behind Northridge, Idaho and Cal Poly. The men also took fourth behind Northridge, Cal Poly and Idaho.

“Our hopes were to be in the top three, but it was a huge move from last year’s seventh place to fourth. A few things didn’t go as planned, but that’s how it goes in the conference meets,” senior distance runner Cosette Smith said. “Overall, it was a great achievement.”

Most of Friday’s events were trials for Saturday’s finals, but UCSB still had some standout performances in the long distance races. Smith won the women’s 10,000 meter run with a three-second lead over Idaho’s Letiwe Marakurwa.

“It was my first 10K and it was hard. But there was a lot of team support, and that made it easier to pull through,” Smith said.

Senior Desiree DeJesus finished fourth in the same race and 10th in the 3,000 steeplechase, earning UCSB much needed points. In the discus throw, sophomore Amy Haapanen finished second behind Idaho’s stiff competition, but took a disappointing 10th in the hammer throw. At the end of Friday’s events, the women were placed fifth overall.

“You do well nine times out of 10, but there’s still that one time. I wish it could have been a different day,” Haapanen said. “But I came back in the discus.”

For the men, junior Jeff Gardina took third in the 10,000, followed by senior Pablo Gallegos in fourth, who lost a shoe but still managed to make up the time, and senior David Monico in fifth. Freshman Mike Powers fared well in the 3,000 steeplechase, taking fourth, followed in fifth and sixth by sophomore Carter Phelps and junior Alex Cardiasmenos, respectively.

“Standout performances would be by three guys,” junior Jeff Gardina said. “Monico came through big in the 5K. Powers and Phelps in the steeplechase; no one would figure they would finish fourth and fifth.”

Sophomore Sean Thomas-Bignami finished fourth in the pole vault, scoring critical points for the Gauchos. After seven events, the men were in third overall behind Northridge and Idaho.

“Everyone did a really good job. We pulled together and inspired each other,” Haapanen said. “We’ve all come a long way from last year.”

On Saturday, more Gauchos made huge strides. For the women, senior Jasmine Washington took first as hoped for in the 400, but settled for fifth in the 200. Sophomore Kylie McCuen placed sixth in the 200 and third in the 400.

In the middle distance races, sophomore Lindsay Christman took second in the 800, and her sister Lauren Christman finished seventh. However, Lauren finished third in the 1,500 behind Desiree Leek, who placed second. Also in the 1,500, Roseann Peters finished sixth.

In the shot put, Haapanen placed second behind Northridge’s top thrower, senior Laura Sauao. In the final event, the 5,000, Leek and Smith finished one and two, respectively.

“We had the best times going into the race, so we got to control the race,” Smith said. “It was a good way to finish the meet.”

The men basked in the glory of senior Nohel Corral’s first place finish in the 400. It was the first UCSB 400 victory since 1995. Then, junior Ben Armel and sophomore Tetlo Emmen finished one and two in the 800. In the 1,500, freshmen Mike Chavez and Chris Ashley scored more points for the Gauchos, taking fifth and eighth, respectively, and both setting personal bests. Senior Chris White won the 5,000 as hoped, dominating the competition.

“Chris was solid. He basically took the lead and created a big gap. Every 1,000 meters was faster than the previous,” Gardina said.
Freshman Nick Cunningham finished seventh in the 100 and sixth in the 200, making him the first Gaucho to make the finals in the 100 or 200 since 2000.

“It came down to the last race for the men. They’ve come a long way too,” Haapanen said. “They are not as deep as most of the other teams, so to score that many points without the depth shows how much they came together and held their own.”

Junior Ryan Lockner took sixth in the shot put, set a personal record and qualified for regionals.

“It was awesome for Ryan to qualify at the conference meet because you are usually so nervous,” Haapanen said.

Seven men will compete in the NCAA West Regional Championship at the end of May: Armel in the 800, sophomore Eugene Bradley in the shot put and the hammer throw, Corral in the 400, Emmen in the 800, Lockner in the shot put, senior Mark Martello in the pole vault, and White in the 5,000. For the women, Washington will compete in the 400; Leek in the 1,500 and the 5,000; Lauren Christman in the 1,500; Smith in the 5,000; DeJesus in the steeplechase; freshman Devon Tracy in the high jump; Haapanen in the shot put, discus and hammer; and sophomore Heather Quinn in the discus and hammer.