They’ve proven that they are the best in the Big West, but this weekend in Eugene, Ore., at the storied Hayward Field, nine Gauchos from the women’s track and field team will try to prove that they are best in the entire West.
Hayward Field is the site of this year’s NCAA West Regional Championships, where the big story for Santa Barbara will be the 5,000-meter run. Three Gauchos — juniors Lauren Christman and Lindsay Christman and senior Cosette Smith — are in the top eight spots for this event, while sophomore Megan Lewis qualified at 13th.
“To get all four women to advance to the [NCAA National Championships] would be awesome,” Head Coach Pete Dolan said. “It’s definitely a possibility with this group of girls.”
Lauren is new to this level of competition in track and field but is no stranger to the challenge of running at a national level after competing on Santa Barbara’s cross country team, which is consistently ranked in the top 20 of the nation each year.
“She wants to have that Nationals experience in track,” Dolan said. “She’ll throw it all out there to get it.”
Smith missed advancing to Nationals last year after making the tactical mistake of leading the race for too long, and was eventually overtaken near the end of the race only to drop out of national berth. It has been a year since she made that mistake, and she has grown as a runner and as a leader. Teammate Dolan is confident that she will not make that mistake again.
“I will [bet] my paycheck that she will not make that mistake again,” Dolan said. “She’s going to be smart and focus on that fifth spot. She’s smart, and when she focuses and concentrates on what she needs to do, she will usually do very well.”
The fifth spot would be a good finish for Smith — the top five finishers in each event advance to the national championships. “Provisional” berths are given to the sixth through eighth finishers, out of which the NCAA will choose who to advance until the 544-athlete-per-gender cap is reached for the national championships.
Junior throwers Amy Haapanen, Heather Quinn and Becky Richey will all be making return trips to Regionals, and attempting to add their names to the field of 544. Haapanen was able to accomplish exactly that last year and is Santa Barbara’s best bet out of the three to advance again this year. Making her first appearance in Regionals is freshman Bethany Nickless. Ranked 17th in the 3,000 steeplechase, Nickless will have to upset a tough field if she expects to advance.
It will be stiff competition for junior Kylie McCuen to advance to Nationals in either of the two events that she competes in, the 200 and 400 dash. Although McCuen holds the school record in the 200, Dolan is more confident about her chances in the 400, in which she is seeded ninth overall. If she does manage to qualify in either event, it will certainly not be an easy task.
“This is as good as collegiate track and field gets,” Dolan said. “If you look at this as the first round of the NCAA tourney, then that gives you a better perspective of just how competitive it is.”