The members of the UCSB women’s track and field team are pioneers in their sport: They are the first UCSB track and field team to ever take the Big West Conference Championship title home to Santa Barbara. The championships were a test of grit and determination, and Santa Barbara proved it was up to the challenge, defeating third-place Long Beach State 179-138 over the weekend in Irvine, Calif.
“It’s amazing; it’s still kind of sinking in,” UCSB Head Coach Pete Dolan said. “It was amazing for that many women to come together in one meet and just compete out of their minds.”
In a championship that was supposed to be a close contest – Dolan expected the championship to be decided by only a few points – Santa Barbara shocked the field by running away from the competition and dominating the championships. One such reason for Santa Barbara’s fantastic results was the efforts of junior sprinter Kylie McCuen, who was awarded the Female Track Athlete of the Meet award.
Dolan and the Gaucho coaching staff expected McCuen to win the 400-meter run, which she did, but she went on to turn a few heads by winning the 200-meter to add 10 more points to the Gaucho total.
“We expected her to win the 400, so when she did, we had a sigh of relief,” Dolan said. “On the 200, she ran a regional qualifying time and ran out of her head; 100 meters into it, you could see she had everyone beat.”
Santa Barbara picked up more points when the distance runners swept the top four and took the seventh position in the 5,000-meter run. Senior Cosette Smith led the way, followed by juniors Lindsay Christman and Lauren Christman, and sophomores Megan Lewis and Hadas Moser, bringing in two points in seventh. Although Smith’s leading time of 17:06.32 is well past the 16:30 times the Gauchos can usually post, the event was not relaxed – it was strategy that slowed Santa Barbara down.
“It was very strategic,” Dolan said. “The last mile was a burner.”
Senior Lida Ripplinger from Utah State, who was competing solely in that event, was only two seconds behind Christman. Lauren Christman and the rest of the Gauchos were able to defeat her, even though Christman was battling strep throat and her body had been rejecting the antibiotics.
“I asked her how she was doing before the event,” Dolan said. “All she said was, ‘I’m OK.’ It just shows how determined our team is.”
Santa Barbara’s dominant tone was set early when junior throwers Amy Haapanen and Heather Quinn began the competition strong, with Haapanen winning the hammer throw and Quinn winning the discus and shot put. All the more impressive, considering Haapanen was able to compete while coping with the recent passing of her father.
“They are the keys to our throwing program,” Dolan said. “[Haapanen] ok is like our commander out there; everyone looks to her to get the events started.”
With the championships over and the title in Santa Barbara, the Gaucho athletes and coaching staff left Irvine with stories and memories that will likely never leave them.