The time has come for the top athletes on the UCSB track and field team to prove that their success is more than just a fluke. Five women will represent the Gauchos this weekend in Provo, Utah, for the NCAA West Regionals – with three of those five women participating in the same event.
Junior distance runners Megan Lewis and Stephanie Rothstein will join senior distance runner and teammate Seanna Martin in the 5,000-meter run. The trio from Santa Barbara is led by Lewis, with her seed of 16:28.28, making her the Big West leader among the competitors for the 5k.
“It’s definitely an awesome feeling,” Lewis said. “We really are the only team going into the race with three girls. It just gives me confidence knowing that I have two girls who I know and train with. If they take off and I’m hurting, I know that I can hang with them because we’ve all had the same training.”
Without divulging his strategy for the race, Head Coach Pete Dolan explained that having three runners in a field where other squads have at most two is advantageous because Santa Barbara will be able to better control the pace and timing of the race to fit their strategy.
“It’s the stuff you dream about as a coach,” Dolan said. “You can expect the outcome of a race a lot better with three than you can with one or two.”
Sophomore distance runner Bethany Nickless will compete in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, with her mark of 10:32.33 being the ninth fastest time for the event. Nickless excelled all season long in the steeplechase and has been the event’s lone Gaucho success story.
“I’m feeling pretty confident going into it,” Nickless said. “Last year I was in a different spot with very little chance of making it to Nationals. This time I actually have a shot if I run well. I just need to go out and run to the best of my ability.”
The lone sprinter for Santa Barbara is no surprise to anybody who followed the track team this season. Senior sprinter Kylie McCuen torched her Big West competition all season long in the 200-meter dash and she earned a spot in this year’s Regionals with a seed of 23.79 seconds.
“I feel special, but also a little sad [about being the only Gaucho sprinter to qualify],” McCuen said. “I wish more of my teammates made it.”
While McCuen’s seed is the eighth fastest out of 10, her ability to perform with consistency and determination gives her an outside shot of cracking the top five and advancing to the NCAA Nationals.
“She’s so consistent; I think that she has a shot,” Dolan said. “We’re already there because she’s consistent and got her times during the season.”
The top five competitors from each event will advance to the Nationals alongside those who meet or come in under the national qualifying marks. Although there is no 10,000-meter competition at this year’s Regionals, Rothstein has already earned a trip to Nationals by running under the qualifying mark earlier in the season.