With its conference title on the line, once again its time for the UCSB track and field team to prove itself. This year’s Big West Championships are kicking off in Northridge this Friday at 9 a.m. with the field events.

“I’m very excited for the meet as a whole,” sophomore distance runner Bethany Nickless said. “We have a good shot of repeating if everyone does what they need to do.”

Nickless will be competing in the 5,000-meter run along with the 3,000-meter steeplechase in which she is favored to win. Her mark of 10:42.21 is the fastest time among Big West competitors and will carry her on further in the postseason to the NCAA Regionals held in Eugene, Ore. later in the month.

“I’m just really excited to run the steeplechase because as of right now I’m favored to win it,” Nickless said. “At the end of last year that was the goal I set for myself: to win the steeplechase in the championships.”

While the strength of the Gaucho squad lies in distance runners such as Nickless and others, the surprising star of this year’s team lies in the shorter distances with senior sprinter Kylie McCuen. McCuen has been tearing down school records and burning up the track all season long and looks to continue her performance in the Big West Championships.

“We’ve always been a very strong distance team,” McCuen said. “But this sprints have also improved a lot this year.”

McCuen will compete in the 200- and 400-meter dashes as well as the women’s 4×100 and 4×400 relay teams which for the first time in a long time have a chance at earning points in the relay competitions.

The Gauchos are in an interesting position right now. On one hand the team is under pressure to repeat and defend their title, but on the other hand they are underdogs compared to some of the other schools such as Northridge, which has a fully funded and better-equipped track and field team.

“I think I’m putting more pressure on myself more than the team,” McCuen said. “But you know we’re not fully funded like some of the other teams and it would be really nice to go out there and stick it to them.”

McCuen and Nickless will join their teammates on the oval in Northridge in defense of their title when the track events kick off in the afternoon. While the stars with big names like McCuen and Nickless will need to show up, it is the rest of the team that might not receive as much press that will likely make the difference.

“It’s really the fifth through tenth place finishers that are going to show whose champ,” McCuen said. “If we take those spots and say a runner from Northridge takes first, we’ll still get more points than them.”