UCSB’s track and field team will travel to UC Irvine this weekend for another chance at a Big West Conference championship. Last year’s women’s squad finished five points behind first-placed Cal State Northridge, while the men’s team placed fourth overall.

[media-credit name=”Daniel Wade” align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit]Some athletes have already qualified for the first round of the NCAA Championships later this month, but winning the conference remains the team’s biggest collective goal.

“The conference title is what makes your season,” junior distance runner Sarah Vitug said. “That’s how you reap your benefits.”

Many freshmen have contributed to the team’s strength this year, and have improved as the season has progressed.

“We have lots of fresh blood that are really talented, [and] a lot of people who have improved their marks,” senior pole vaulter Jennifer Brown said.

For men’s hurdles, freshman Sean Johnson and sophomore André Piñon lead the way, while junior sprinter Beidi Beer is the current conference leader in the 100m dash with a 10.55. Freshmen Jacob Vowels, Evan Walker and Cameron Schneider will also compete in the 100m.

Distance runners consist of junior Ryan Martin the in the 800m, with sophomores Tyler Brady and Juan Paredes running the 1500m. Junior Michael Wysocki will look to maintain his undefeated streak in the 10,000m this season after winning the Cal-Nevada Championships with a time of 31:27 on March 26.

Sophomores Mitch Haag and Max Villalba lead the high jumpers. Haag placed third in the Big West Championships last year, while Villalba finished second in last weekend’s Occidental Invitational. After his third-place performance in last weekend’s decathlon portion of conference, sophomore Derek Masterson will compete in the pole vault and javelin throw.

On the women’s side, senior Snita Ashford and freshman Jessica Johnson lead the sprints. Sophomore Aislynn Mueller currently has the fifth-fastest time in the conference in the 400m hurdles event.

Junior Justine Diaz enters the weekend as the leader in the 800m event. Sophomore Cassie Brooker was named Big West Track Athlete of the Week for her personal best time of 2:11.02 in the 800m at the Occidental Invitational last weekend, and will compete in the 800m and 5,000m this weekend.

Senior Maureen Ajoku will compete in the high jump and long jump after placing fourth in the heptathlon at conference last weekend. Ajoku was the top performer in the high jump, clearing 5’5” and aims to repeat those results. The throwers are led by senior Jean Lightfoot who ranks among the top three in the conference; currently, first in discus and third in the shot put and hammer.

“[We] are looking especially strong going into this weekend,” junior distance runner Rusty Parker said. “It should be a great weekend of track action.”

Events start at 10 a.m. on Friday and Saturday at UC Irvine’s Anteater Stadium.