Not even the thin air in Provo, Utah could slow down sophomore distance runner Bethany Nickless on her way to finishing second in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the NCAA Western Regional last Saturday.

UCSB had three women compete in the 5,000-meter run as well as senior and star sprinter Kylie McCuen in the 200-meter dash, but it was Nickless who had the most success battling the altitude.

“People have been asking me, ‘Did the altitude get to you?'” Nickless said. “I don’t really think that it did. I felt fine.”

Nickless’ time of 10:33.54 was second to freshman Amy Fowler from BYU who finished with a time of 10:32.36. Nickless took the lead with a few laps left to go, but Fowler overtook her when she nicked a hurdle in the last 200 yards. The runner-up finish gives Nickless an automatic entry into this year’s National Championships held in Sacramento, Calif. starting June 7.

“I’m so glad Regionals are done,” UCSB Head Coach Pete Dolan said. “That’s a nightmare I don’t want to revisit. Now I’m just looking forward to Nationals.”

Part of Dolan’s nightmare was the Gauchos who were unable cope with the altitude as well as Nickless. Distance runners juniors Stephanie Rothstein and Megan Lewis ran alongside teammate and senior Seanna Martin in the 5,000-meter run, but none were able to finish in the top five.

“It was just survival because of the altitude factor,” Dolan said. “It was obvious to anyone paying attention that the sea-level schools were struggling more than anyone else.”

Lewis finished eighth with a time of 17:36.08, good enough to earn her an at-large bid for this year’s national championships. Martin and Rothstein were not as successful, but Rothstein will join teammates Nickless and Lewis in Sacramento as she already earned a spot in the 10,000-meter run.

“[Lewis] just had to hang on,” Dolan said. “She just survived and managed to get an at-large bid but she just barely hung in there.”

Dolan admits that he was less than thrilled that the Regionals were held at high altitude, but says that it is not important anymore and now he is focusing on the fact that three women will represent Santa Barbara in Nationals.

“The real deal here is that we have three women representing UCSB in the distance events,” Dolan said. “That’s up there with world-class teams.”

Rothstein, Martin and Nickless will battle the best in the nation June 7 in Sacramento, Calif. at the NCAA National Championships.