Every sport has a holy ground. Basketball has Duke, football has the Rose Bowl and track and field has Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., the site of this weekend’s track and field NCAA Western Regional Tournament. UCSB’s track and field team will make the pilgrimage to its Mecca in Oregon to run on the same track as the legendary Steve Prefontaine and compete for a chance to advance to the NCAA National Championships.
“This is Track Town USA,” Head Coach Pete Dolan said. “All the teams are buzzing about running at Hayward Field.”
Regionals promise to provide Santa Barbara with stiff competition, well above the level that most of the Gauchos in the tournament are used to facing in the Big West Conference. Junior pole vaulter Sean Bignami, who took the conference title in the pole vault, is seeded 10th and will have to overcome some of the best talent in the nation in order to advance. The men’s 4×400 meter relay team, which won the conference championships, is seeded last in the field and will have to force an amazing upset to advance to Nationals.
However, two members of that relay team — junior Tetlo Emmen and senior Ben Armel — are looking to show that lightning can strike twice. Emmen, who was seeded ninth in the 800 last year and eighth this year, pulled a major upset to win the event with Armel, who was close behind him in second. Expect the dynamic duo that dominated the 800 all year not to disappoint and to advance to compete on the national scene.
“Tetlo and Ben put the big surprise on everyone last year,” Dolan said. “This year they aren’t the underdogs anymore. They’re more confident and more capable.”
Sophomores Scott McConville, the school record holder in the 1,500, and Mike Chavez have their work cut out for them, considering they are seeded 20th and 25th respectively. Junior jumper Ryan Donnelly will compete in both the long jump and 4×400 relay, and will have to step up if he wants to advance. He should not be ruled out, though, because during the conference championships two weekends ago in Irvine, he set his personal record of 24’7″ and qualified for Regionals in the 10th seed.
When it comes to stepping up, few do it better than junior Eugene “Big Gene” Bradley, who will compete in the hammer throw. When the pressure was on to qualify for the conference championships in the shot put, he stepped up and did it. When the conference hammer throw competition got tough, he got tougher and threw his personal best: an inch over 200 feet. Bradley will have to tack on around seven extra feet if he hopes to reach the top five and earn an automatic advance to Nationals.
“He’s here to make Nationals,” Dolan said. “He’s incredibly focused, and the entire team looks to him for that focus and determination.”
The top five finishers in each event will advance to Nationals, to be held June 8 in Sacramento, Calif.