It was the perfect time of the season for the UCSB track and field athletes to have championship performances and seasonal bests as the year came to a close for most of the team during this weekend’s Big West Conference Championships at Cal State Northridge’s Matador Track.
“[The Conference Championships] is really the meet of the season,” senior distance runner Bethany Nickless said. “This is what everyone trains for, what other races are meant to get you ready for – it is the pinnacle of the season, and it’s the time to claim that your team is the best.”
The UCSB distance squad proved why they are the top team in the conference and will make their impact heard in two weeks at the NCAA Regional Championships. All five of the Gauchos’ Conference champions came from the distance squad, with several of those not garnering first place finishes reaching the podium or scoring points in the team competition.
Chris Ashley and Danielle Domenicelli swept their distance events, both taking first in the 5000 and 10000 meter runs. In Friday night’s 10000m race, Domenicelli spent most of her time leading the main pack, but then broke away with about 10 laps to go. After battling UC Davis’ Kaitlin Gregg and Cal State Fullerton’s Grace Gonzalez down the stretch, she crossed the finish line with a time of 36:14, 14 seconds in front of her nearest competitor. The next day Domenicelli came out strong again in the 5000m, combining for a 1-2 finish with fellow Gaucho, Nickless.
Nickless battled back in the 5000m after a disappointing steeplechase on Friday. While in the lead, Nickless hit a barrier and took a tumble, but managed to recover to record a third-place finish with a time of 10.48.99
“I’m happy with what I accomplished,” Nickless said. “I clipped my spike on a barrier and went down, and I was in the lead, so I really think that if I hadn’t fallen I could have won, but then I am really happy with the way the 5k turned out.”
Distance runner Ashley had a dominating performance this weekend, teaming up with fellow senior Tim Aukshunas for a 1-2 finish in the 10000m, and then, less than 24-hours later, came up big again in the 5000m, crossing the line with a first place time of 14:49. UCSB dominated the 5000m run. After Ashley’s first-place finish, steeplechaser Michael Powers, Aukshunas and Julian DeRubira all crossed the line within six seconds of each other to combine for a 4-5-6 finish. Powers recorded the Gaucho’s first championship performance on Friday by finishing a second ahead of the competition with a time of 9:05.
Other great Gaucho performances included junior Elmer Guzman took fifth place in the 400m hurdles with a time of 54.12, his fastest time of the season. In the field events, senior Jeff Stewart took third place in the shot put with a throw of 16.87m, and sophomore Hector Serrano recorded a personal best of 16.61m, good for fourth place. Junior Jane Doolittle finished third in the high jump by clearing a personal best 5’10”.
In the overall team competition, the Gaucho men placed fourth with the women finishing in sixth. Long Beach State took the conference championship for the men with Cal State Northridge taking first for the women.
“We have had a rough year team wise, but both teams went in and finished higher than we were ranked,” Nickless said. “Some people stepped up and had really great performances and I am really happy with the way it turned out.”
The Gauchos will take a week off before their qualifiers travel back to CSUN for the NCAA West Regional Championships, which will be held on Friday, May 30 and Saturday, May 31.
“We are going to be putting the final touches on our season in these upcoming weeks,” Nickless said. “We just want to make the last preparations for regionals and hopefully qualify for nationals.”