Track and field fans were treated to a wonderful two-day's worth of Pac-10 Conference Championship action in Palo Alto last weekend, where several Bears left their mark on the conference before heading onto the Regionals. However, the much anticipated showdown between Cal's NCAA Indoor Champion, Alysia Johnson and last year's NCAA Outdoor Champion, Oregon's Rebekah Noble, didn't occur when Noble had to scratch from the Women's 800m final due to a strained hamstring incurred during practice the week before.
|GoldenBearSports, Michael Pimentel
Alysia Johnson at the Big Meet
As a result, Johnson was able to "breeze" to her first Pac-10 Conference Championship wire-to-wire, winning by a margin of nearly 4.5 seconds over Stanford's Ashley Freeman. Johnson's winning time of 2:01.74 was the second fastest of her career, exceeded only by her school-record-breaking 2:01.48 which she ran at the end of April in Berkeley at the California Collegiate Challenge. This is the second conference title for the women's team. Coincidentally, 800m runner Chloe Jarvis won the first Pac-10 Championship, also in the 800m back in 2005.
Johnson looked incredibly sharp at the conference meet where a long, drawn-out "introduction" by a Fox Sports camera crew that delayed the start of the event failed to create any undue anxiety for her. As has been the case for the entire season, Alysia took the lead right after the break from stagger and controlled the race throughout. She came through the first lap in 59 and change - and no one was really with her.
As has been her trademark all season, Johnson carries a ton of speed thru the first 400m and consistently runs sub-60 for that first lap. She has also shown tremendous success in the all-important third 200m where quite typically a race is decided between those strong enough to finish up front and the also-rans. Track fans across the country can't wait to see what this incredible talent will be able to do once she is actually pushed after the first 400m.
Fortunately, those fans won't have too long as Miss Johnson will be competing in "Duckland" this weekend at the NCAA Regionals. Last year's NCAA Champion and hometown favorite, Oregon's Rebekah Noble, is expected to be ready to run in the 800m after her absence at Pac-10's.
Cal sophomore Mackenzie Pierce was also in the Pac-10 800m finals and was looking to improve on her personal best of 2:04.78 from her race at the Payton Jordan Stanford Qualifier on April 29th. In that race, Pierce went into battle with such Olympic trials qualifiers as Madeleine Pape of Australia and Francis Santin of the Santa Monica Track Club and dropped her previous best time by nearly two seconds. However, in the Pac-10 finals, Pierce was unfortunately tripped from behind by UCLA's Allie Bohannon just 300 meters into the race and went down hard. She was unable to finish the race and required medical attention from what was reported to be a mild concussion. She was later released from the hospital and was deemed to be feeling fine according to John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle. Hopefully, Pierce will be able to battle back and run well at the NCAA Regionals in Eugene - she certainly had a breakthrough race at the Stanford Qualifier and that should serve her well heading into the Regionals.
Also of note on the women's team, Cal junior Cassandra Strickland jumped 42-08 to take second place in the women's triple jump competition, behind a staggering 46-05.25 performance by Stanford's Erica McLain. McClain's jump was not only a Pac-10 record, a Pac-10 meet record, and Stanford school record, but also the #4 performance in collegiate history. She is now just two inches away from achieving the Olympic "A" standard for the 2008 Olympic Trials where competitors not only have to finish in the top three, but also must meet the "A" standard.
Meanwhile, Strickland's mark was just 7 inches away from her personal best of 43-03.25 and her position as #3 on Cal's All-Time list. The way that Strickland was jumping last week it certainly looks as though Amy Littlepage's mark of 44-05 from 1997 is within reach. However, Strickland will have to more consistently put together each phase of her jump sequence. In fact, Strickland wound-up aborting an attempt at the Pac-10's that had such a huge first phase (and runway speed to go with it) that it left Head Coach Chris Huffins reeling with the quintessential "Oooohh Noooooo!!!" look on his face as he turned his back on the pit, wincing at what could have been.
Cal sophomore, Emilee Strot topped off the podium finishes for the women's squad with her second place finish in the discus competition with a throw of 181-04. This was a lifetime best for the native of Gresham, Oregon that has her looking forward to the NCAA Regionals in Eugene in front of family and friends.
Cal senior, Kelechi Anyanwu also made the discus competition podium, taking third place in the conference with a throw of 176-04. Both Strot and Anywanu will be joining Missy Faubus in throwing the shot at Eugene. Cal hammer thrower, Carrie Johnson took fourth place in the conference meet at 207-06 and will be heading to Regionals as well.
Cal throws coach and two-time All American Jennifer Joyce has managed a most successful season as her athletes continue to step-up in major competition. Coincidentally, Coach Joyce is also training for the post-season herself in the hammer throw as the three-time Canadian national champion (20th at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki) has her sights set on the Pan American Games and World Championships in Osaka, Japan.
|GoldenBearSports, Michael Pimentel
Kevin Davis, Steeplechase
On the Men's side, the Golden Bears were able to muster several podium finishes at the Pac-10s with senior Kevin Davis leading the way on Friday, the first day of competition - recording a mind-blowing 15 second gain on his personal best in the 3000m Steeplechase in 8:40.52 to take second behind ASU's Aaron Aguayo who won the event in 8:36.42 - Cal's Davis would have probably won the event in any other year, but Aguayo has been a collegiate career "monster" in the steeplechase, winning it all four years and becoming only the 11th athlete in the history of the Pac-10 Conference to win an event in all four years of their college career.
|Bear Insider Photo
David Torrence and America's
First Sub-4 Miler, Don Bowden
On Saturday, Cal's David Torrence added yet another podium finish by taking a hard fought 2nd place in the Men's 1500m race in 3:47.05. Torrence, fresh off of his school record in the mile set at the California Collegiate Challenge on April 28th in Berkeley in which he erased Don Bowden's 50 year old school record of 3:57.80 ( see photo below ) looked to be a favorite for the Pac-10 1500m title.
Track fans young and old were certainly anticipating this race as being the marquee event of the day with the additional pre-race buzz from local media as Fox Sports covered the meet in tape-delayed fashion. While Oregon's talented freshman, A J Acosta and his teammate Mike McGrath were pegged to be in the mix along with Stanford's Garrett Heath, knowledgeable track fans had this race down to Torrence vs. Brown. At 1200m the race was anybody's as the pack of twelve runners had not yet separated. However, the field started to stretch out down the backstretch as Stanford's Russell Brown took control. Brown was able to out-kick the rest of the field coming off the final turn, narrowly defeating a hard charging Torrence by 16/100 of a second, 3:46.89 vs. 3:47.05
Cal sophomore Mark Matusak finished in sixth place in 3:48.60 - just three-tenths behind Acosta. All told, only two seconds separated winner Brown and seventh place for a most electric atmosphere at Stanford's Cobb Track and Angell Field in which spectators were left oooing and ahhhing.
In the Men's 800m, Cal's Francis Gadayan was able to hang on for third place and a podium finish in 1:50.10 just ahead of Stanford's Michael Garcia in 1:50.17 - Ryan Brown of Washington cruised past a faltering Duane Solomon of USC to win the 800m title in 1:47.15 - and Solomon, the defending Pac-10 Champion went out in a blazing 52 second first lap and started to slow coming out of the final turn where Brown was able to pass and take the win.
|GoldenBearSports, Michael Pimentel
Ed Wright, High Jump
In the field events, Cal was able to grab its second Pac-10 Conference Championship with the fine work of Oakland native Ed Wright. In a competition that was almost over as soon as it started because of Wright's dominating talent, the son of five-time Olympic medalist Mal Whitfield was the only jumper in the conference to clear 7 feet.
The affable young man who came to Cal from nearby St. Mary's high school (where he was coached by the #1 all-time high jumper at Cal, Jeff Rogers) has been training exceptionally well this year under the watchful eye of long-time Cal assistant coach and former NCAA Decathlon Champion, Ed Miller.
In fact, Wright has not had one competition this season in which he has jumped under 7-01. Although he wound-up winning the Pac-10 title with his first jump at 7-03, Wright had several near misses at 7-05 - with his first and last attempt being oh-so-close, captivating the entire grandstand along the Westside of Cobb Track and Angell Field.
|Bear Insider Photo
Torrence flanked by teammates
and Don Bowden
All told the California Golden Bears qualified 28 track and field athletes for the NCAA Regionals in Eugene. It has been a most successful season for the Bears as 31 athletes have found their way onto or were able to improve their positions on Cal's Top-10 All-Time list.
Athletes will have to finish in the top five in Eugene in order to automatically qualify for the NCAA Outdoor Championships to be held in Sacramento, June 6th through 9th at Hornet Stadium.
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