The men’s and women’s track teams will head south this weekend to vie for a spot atop the Big West at the Big West Championships at Northridge, Calif.

Last year the women won their first Big West Championship in the history of the program, at the conference championships, held in Irvine, Calif. Before the triumph of yesteryear, the Gauchos had never even placed within the top three of the field. Following the meet, then junior Kylie McCuen was named Big West Track Athlete of the Year, while Head Coach Pete Dolan was anointed top coach of the Conference. McCuen, who, last year, paced Santa Barbara with wins in the 200-meter and the 400-meter, has not slowed down since. This year, the senior speedster has anchored another strong season, with the Gauchos seemingly poised to defend their Big West crown. Last week in a dual meet against Central Coast rival Cal Poly, McCuen helped Santa Barbara whip the Mustangs in the 4×100-meter relay, while she also picked up the victory in 400-meter with teammate sophomore Kerry Gamble shortly behind her.

Similarly, the men’s side also enjoyed successful Championships last year, finishing in the top three for the first time in just under a decade. With an impressive win in the 4×100-meter relay, Santa Barbara finished in third place – the first time the squad finished in the top three since 1996.

Last week, the men won for the first time over theMustangs in a nail-biter that was not decided until the day’s final event. However, a plethora of both personal and seasonal bests powered the Gauchos to a narrow 104.5 to 98.5 victory to notch the win over Cal Poly for the first time in three tries. Junior distance runners Mike Chavez and Micah Tyhurst helped Santa Barbara jump out to an early lead, finishing 1-2 in the 3,000-meter, while Chavez’s time of 8:59.26 was good enough to receive a nod to the NCAA Regionals, while Tyhurst barely missed the cut, finishing with a respectable 9:08.50 mark. It was Tyhurst’s second best time in the event.

Both the men and the women will compete in the heptathlon and decathlon events this Saturday and Sunday, with the rest of the squad traveling to Northridge the following weekend for the conclusion of the event. The men’s biggest hurdles between them and a first-place finish are the hosting Matadors and Long Beach State. Although the women are the defending champions, the most likely challenger will be Northridge.