The UCSB men’s track team is back at sea level after competing in the NCAA Western Regional in Provo, Utah. The unfriendly combination of BYU’s high heat and altitude was rough on the Gauchos, and some athletes from other low-altitude schools did not even manage to finish their events.
“I’m glad it’s over,” UCSB Head Coach Pete Dolan said. “This Regional site was rewarded to an altitude school. It was unfair to these sea level people, they had to get used to another variable. I’m really disappointed.”
Despite the conditions, as well as the fact that it is impossible to train and prepare for them, the Gauchos still turned in respectable marks. The distance runners and throwers represented Santa Barbara well with the skill and strength they have shown all season. Sophomore distance runner Chris Ashley was the top UCSB finisher of the day with a sixth place finish in the 5,000-meter.
“The first couple laps were really simple; I felt really good, but after three laps it was like ‘snap,’ because of the altitude,” Ashley said. “After three laps it kicked in really hard and we were running considerably slower than if were at sea level. There were guys from Utah that were used to the altitude, but I managed to hold them off. I was just happy to finish the season in sixth.”
The top five finishers in Regionals received an automatic bid to the NCAA National Championships, but Ashley’s sixth-place finish gave him a shot at an at-large bid to Nationals. If one of the top five finishers had decided to run another event, he would have taken their spot, but neither ended up happening last weekend.
“The altitude was so bad – it affects people really bad,” Ashley said. “The times were extremely slow. It was like watching people running in sand, but there’s nothing you can do about it.”
The other distance runner to represent UCSB was junior Mike Chavez, who has had a very solid year running the 3,000-meter steeplechase. However, after a good start to the race, the altitude affected him greatly.
“Mike Chavez was peaking, he was ready to roll, he challenged everyone until the last lap, and he blew up. It was due to the altitude,” Dolan said. “It’s like when you live in the dorms and the flu goes around, some people aren’t affected as much as others. It’s just the same with the altitude.”
Santa Barbara sent five throwers to Utah, with three in the shot put and one each in the hammer and javelin throws. Sophomores Scott Anderson, Jeff Stewart and Matt Barkley competed in the shot put, finishing fourth, sixth and eighth, respectively, but none reached the finals. Sophomore Reif Lawson took seventh in his fight for the hammer throw and senior Gabe Mann finished sixth with his javelin performance.
“It didn’t go that well for us as a whole,” Stewart said. “We definitely went in prepared; we went in ready. Things just didn’t click. It was a pretty average day for all of us.”
As none of the men qualified for the Nationals, the season has come to a close for the team, but in a few weeks the returning athletes will begin training for the 2007 season.