In this day and age of specialization many track and field programs choose to run anything but a balanced program. With only 12.6 scholarships allowed by the NCAA on the men's side and 18.0 for the women, distance-laden teams such as those seen at Stanford over the years appear to be the status quo in today's Division I track and field landscape.
For example, at the Pac-10 Track Championships last year in Eugene, the Stanford men's team did not field one single finalist in any event under 800 meters, nor did they have a hurdler in the 110 meter- or 400 meter-hurdles, nor did they field a relay team in the 4x100 or 4x400 relays. It is for this reason that the Stanfords of the world would rather not bother with a track meet structured in the traditional dual-meet format.
For them, the Big Meet has become an inconvenience and gets in the way of training for their postseason competitions, not to mention the Penn Relays that they attend every year with a top caliber distance medley relay team. The distance-laden Michigans, Colorados, and Wisconsins can also be said to embrace this kind of unbalanced-team philosophy.
In the Pac-10, USC still gets it on with UCLA in late April every year for their annual dual-meet bash for bragging-rights, but even then it is a dual-meet that sprint- and jump-laden USC would rather not be inconvenienced by - aside from the fact that some die-hard Trojan alums would most likely be heard screaming from South Central to the Santa Monica pier if that rivalry were allowed to die.
USC is at the other end of the track and field spectrum. They have had a long history of specializing in the sprints and jumps. In fact, most casual track and field fans aren't even aware that USC does not field a cross-country team. But given the fact that USC runners wouldn't only be dodging traffic in the South Central/Midtown area, most casual sports fans would be inclined to give even big, bad USC a free pass on this one.
|Photo: Kris Cartwright
Head Coach Huffins with the Easter Bunny
With the advent of a new NCAA Regionals format that takes place in late May, the outdoor track and field schedule has also had a hand in becoming far too burdensome to even entertain the notion of dual-meet competition over the course of the season. There simply isn't enough time for athletes to recover from a series of dual-meets and be ready to go when the NCAAs come around in early June. Sears Directors Cup Trophy points are awarded for overall placing at the NCAAs. That has become the hallmark song for any D-I program, let alone Cal whose 27 sports teams helped the Golden Bears finish 7th overall last year for its highest ranking ever. Cal vs. Stanford. UCLA vs. USC. And that's it for the West Coast, folks. Sad but true, dual meets have become a dinosaur in the making in 21st century collegiate athletics.
At the 113th Big Meet, the Cardinal was able to prevail over the Golden Bears by virtue not just of the strength of their distance runners, but also from a sweep of the triple jump by the Cardinal men. Over the last several years, Cal has been devoid of any real threat in the triple jump (aside from Danville's Bruce Giron in 2004 who is now tied for 9th on the Cal all-time list at 52-10) and has all too often had to rely on a multi-event decathlete for any points whatsoever in the hop-skip-jump event.
Suffice to say, Giron was in attendance at the Big Meet last weekend and he was chomping at the bit to get into the competition. I kid you not, this man is in great shape and would have gladly competed unattached if given the opportunity. One more year of Bruce Giron and the Bears could very well have been Big Meet winners once again. As it was, the Cal men got out-jumped by the Cardinal, 88-75.
On the women's side, the Cardinal also prevailed by virtue of one former U.S. National Outdoor Champion in the triple jump, Erica McClain, a senior who won her event with an effort of 44-11. As a result, the Cal women fell by a score of 86.5 - 76.5.
Yet, these facts wouldn't even be remotely at all interesting when one considers that Cal does in fact have a freshman triple jump specialist in one Charles Amadi. Amadi, who hails from Edison High in Fresno and boasts a personal best of 49-2 in the triple jump, was busy at spring football practice in Berkeley on the day of the 113th Big Meet.
Stanford footballer Richard Sherman who was the winner of the triple jump with a jump of 50-0 was also at spring football earlier that day in the morning next door at Stanford's newly renovated stadium.
Some conspiracy theorists have suggested that Stanford moved up the date of the 113th Big Meet by two weeks this year so as to prevent any Cal footballers from competing on the track, as they would have obviously still been in spring football practice, let alone 60 miles away.
It is interesting to note that Cal head coach and bronze medalist in the 2000 Olympic decathlon, Chris Huffins, was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle as having said that "I don't think April 7th is all that early. It's definitely not too early to affect the outcome. Their kids are ready to go and we are too. I've doped it out four times and I can't figure out how we can win. But track meets are never won on paper."
As it was, Stanford's Jonathan Pierce had to break up a potential Cal sweep in the 3000 meters by placing second in order to clinch the men's side of the meet for the Cardinal before the final event, the 4 x 400 meter relay.
Brothers in Arms, Ghebrays after 3000m
Golden Bear brothers, Giliat and Yosef Ghebray who hail from nearby James Logan High in Union City, along with Cal 1500 meter specialist David Torrence, almost pulled off a remarkable sweep in the Men's 3000 meters. However, as dominant as Giliat's 8:04.54 winning effort was, brother Yosef wasn't quite able to fend off a surging Jonathan Pierce of the Cardinal on the final lap as Pierce kicked his way into second place in 8:05.98 with Yosef claiming third in 8:08.11. Torrence and Mark Matusak put in a yeoman's effort for the Bears, but their earlier run in the 1500 meters didn't allow them to be as fresh as Pierce obviously was. Stanford held Pierce out of his specialty, the steeplechase, in order to preserve him for the 3000 meter race.
The narrow defeat couldn't overshadow an outstanding afternoon by Cal junior Thomas Mack.
|GoldenBearSports.com, Michael Pimentel
Thomas Mack having a field day
Mack, a former prep California State Champion in the 110 meter and 300 meter hurdles from Bakersfield has been haunted by injuries, and was redshirted for last year's outdoor season. Yet, on Saturday, Mack looked like a world-beater. In fact, Mack had a "field" day on the track with wins in the 100 (10.57), 200 (21.62), 110 hurdles (13.95), and leading off the victorious Cal 4 x 100 relay (41.34) to open the meet. His effort 13.95 in the 110 meter hurdles was particularly impressive as he looked fluid, carried a lot of speed, and got his lead leg down into the track as quick as he has since coming to Cal.
Stanford 100-meter school record holder Wopamo Osaisai had his hands full anchoring the Cardinal 4 x 100 relay team against Cal decathlete, Stephen Conrad.
Conrad, fresh off setting an NCAA Regional qualifying mark of 7,214 points, was certainly up for the task. While some sympathetic fans might have given Osaisai a pass on this day due to his spring football practice the morning of the Big Meet, it was clear that his speedier days are behind him. Conrad got the baton only one step ahead of Osaisai, yet never relinquished the lead. Conrad certainly gave the fans one of the more exciting races of the day, anchoring the Cal relay team to a 41.34 clocking even though Osaisai raised his baton-clad hand in victory after the finish line. However, all eyes were fixed on the large million-dollar jumbotron scoreboard at the southeast corner of Cobb Track - and the scoreboard didn't lie.
Cal finished in 41.34 and the Cardinal in 41.35! Suffice it to say, Osaisai was literally inconsolable and immediately put on a most entertaining temper-tantrum that started with his throwing of the baton.
On the women's side of the meet, Cal throws coach Jennifer Joyce was most satisfied with her weight crew that continues to climb up the ranks on Cal's all-time list. Senior Kelechi Anyanwu led a sweep in the women's shot put with a personal best throw of 50-7.25 that moved her up to #4 on Cal's all-time list. In the discus, Anyanwu also lead a Cal sweep with a throw of 180-11, with teammates Emilee Strot, Missy Faubus, and Carrie Johnson placing second, third, and fourth. Johnson also won the hammer throw with a dominating mark of 204-11.
At the end of the day, 17 Cal athletes had scored times/marks that qualified them for the NCAA Regionals at the end of May in Eugene, Oregon.
Perhaps the most significant performance of the day came from newly crowned NCAA Indoor Champion, Alysia Johnson. In fact, Cal head coach Chris Huffins said that, "When it's all said and done, AJ is going to be one of the best female athletes to ever compete for Cal. She is an absolute phenom, and anybody who gets to watch her run right now should take pictures and truly be honored because you're being blessed by greatness."
At the 113th Annual Big Meet, Johnson showed her talent in the 800 meters. She came through the first 400 meters in 59.7 - leaving the pack well behind. She came back in the final 400 meters in 63.8 to finish in a meet record 2:03.43, eclipsing the old meet record of former Cal star Louise Romo, who ran 2:04.10 back in 1984.
Afterwards, she talked about what she's been concentrating on this spring.
"I work on different paces and rhythms that occur at various points in my race," said Johnson. "In the past, I have had a tendency to fall asleep during the third 200 meters of my race and that is something that I have been working on with Coach (Tony) Sandoval."
With a 2:01.80 personal best under her belt run against the likes of two-time Olympian Hazel Clark, there still is some unfinished business to deal with at Cal, primarily breaking the school record of 2:01.59 set by five-time All-American Louise Romo in 1984. My guess is that we won't have too long to wait for that school record to fall, and breaking the two-minute barrier is definitely within reach.
Olympian Head Coaches Comparing Notes
Years ago, before the advent of the Sears Cup Directors Trophy, not too mention the event specialization that has evolved over the years, the Big Meet was a much bigger rivalry. In fact, it got downright nasty at times! Now it is safe to say that both programs and coaching staffs have a genuine mutual respect for each other.
In the not too distant past this was unfortunately not the case. But times and priorities change. Truth be told, specialization, the NCAA Regionals, and the lure of Sears Directors Cup Trophy points have all had a hand in watering down the rivalry.
But in the end, both head coaches are class acts and their programs are a true reflection and embodiment of the virtues of great sportsmanship. Besides, beyond the Big Meet, the real treasure comes in May at the Pac-10 Championships at Stanford and in June at the NCAAs in Sacramento.
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