Moral victories aside, the UCSB women’s track and field team was unable to defend their Big West Championship title, falling to second place behind Cal State Northridge 207-165.50.
“Northridge was just too much for us,” Head Coach Pete Dolan said.
Both the Matadors and Gauchos received solid performances from all of their competitors. Northridge was able to edge out the Gauchos in many of the field events with Santa Barbara redshirting two of the top throwers in the Big West in seniors Amy Haapanen and Heather Quinn.
“Northridge is very strong in a lot of events,” sophomore distance runner Bethany Nickless said. “Maybe they have more depth than we do, but I wouldn’t say it was a lack of depth on our part.”
Nickless was dominant in her 3,000-meter steeplechase in which she was favored to win. Her time of 10:40.86 was ten seconds below the regional qualifying mark and over thirty seconds faster than her nearest competitor, junior Karina Ortiz from Cal State Fullerton who finished with a mark of 11:08.27.
“It was pretty exciting just reaching my goal for the year,” Nickless said. “But I don’t know, it was just kind of anticlimactic because there wasn’t really any tough competition.”
Nickless continued to run hard despite her nearest competitor trailing her by half a minute to keep herself in shape for the NCAA Regionals starting May 26 in Provo, Utah. Nickless finished second in the 5,000-meter run. She was joined by junior distance runner Stephanie Rothstein, who also took first place in the 10,000-meter run, senior distance runner Seanna Martin and junior distance runner Megan Lewis, rounding out the top four positions for the event.
“It was like Stephanie told me,” Dolan said. “It was a guts race. It came down to who had the talent and guts to finish at the end of the race.”
With the dominance in distance events that the Gauchos have come to expect, the surprises came in other events. While senior sprinter Kylie McCuen’s skills have been on display all season long, her ability to repeat as champion in the 200- and 400-meter dashes really impressed her coach.
“For her to repeat in both events in the four and two, for her to have that kind of dominance and not be one of the top ten in the country,” Dolan said. “She’s just so confident in her abilities and you can tell in her racing style. She was second best in the 400 but was just so confident and steady that you could see it in her.”
But the biggest surprise of the championships came not from the track, but from the infield. Freshman jumper Jane Doolittle finished second in the high jump behind senior Emily Forsythe from Long Beach State by clearing a height of 1.75 meters.
“You hope for those kind of surprise performances, but you can never predict them,” Dolan said. “It’s one of those moments in sports that excites everybody. Even people from other teams were excited.”
The Gauchos are keeping their heads held high after this weekend’s competition and for good reason. The depth and consistency of the Matadors were too much for Santa Barbara to overcome.
“You know, when it comes down to it they have 18 full-rides to hand out and I have five,” Dolan said. “I wish I had the money, but the team performed without it. Maybe it is an advantage, maybe it gives us purity or an underdog edge.”
Santa Barbara will take their “purity” and “underdog edge” with them to compete in the high altitudes of Provo, Utah starting May 26 for the NCAA Regionals.