The Big West Championships officially began for the UCSB track and field team this weekend in Northridge. Senior heptathlete Danielle DeBeaubien kicked off the championships by finishing sixth in the heptathlon earning three points for the defending champion Gauchos.

While DeBeaubien was competing in the heptathlon, which consists of 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, long jump, javelin throw and the 800-meter run, others from the Gaucho squad were competing in the Claremont Classic in an effort to either earn a last minute qualifying mark for the Big West Championships next weekend, or to brush up on their skills for next week’s competition.

“It was a low-key meet,” junior hurdler Stellamarie Hall said. “It was easy to go to and there was good competition.”

Hall finished sixth in the 100-meter hurdles with a time of 14.96, about one-tenth of a second shy of her personal best.

“I had the time to get in one week of competition to brush up before conference [championships],” Hall said. “I have a few kinks to work out before next week.”

Among those who traveled to Claremont was senior sprinter Leticia Pulido. Pulido set personal best times in the 100- and 200-meter dashes with times of 12.34 and 25.56, respectively. The 12.34 in the 100 was good enough to earn Pulido an invitation to the Big West Championships with the field events beginning Friday, May 12 in Northridge.

“[Head Coach Pete Dolan] told us yesterday to ‘take what is yours,'” Hall said. “I’m going into the championship with that kind of attitude and I think it’s the attitude of most of us on the team right now.”

The women will attempt to build off of DeBeaubien’s start in the Big West Conference Championships in an effort to defend the title that they earned last year. The Gauchos will be going up against teams that are fully funded and able to recruit from a broader range of talent. Some of the toughest challenges come from Northridge, who has improved since last year, and who is hosting this year’s conference championships.

“The pressure’s always there and it’s just a matter of maturity and stepping up to the challenge,” Hall said. “Across the board we have a lot of talent, including sprints and jumps, which we haven’t had in past years.”

Hall and Pulido represent some of the improved talent in areas other than distance running, which has been Santa Barbara’s traditional strength. Senior sprinter Kylie McCuen – reigning conference female Track Athlete of the Year – will also try to lead the Gauchos back to the top of the Big West before heading to the NCAA Regionals.