Stewart takes home conference hurdles title

After breaking a school record in the 60m hurdles in February, Ray Stewart wasn’t impressed.

“I definitely feel like I can run faster,” he said.

Stewart has yet to stop impressing since then, continually earning himself a spot in track highlights and headlines. His most recent accomplishment came at this weekend’s Pac-10 Championships in Tuscon, Ariz., where he became the school’s conference champion in the 110m hurdles since Larry Cowling 30 years ago.

The junior from Oakland, Calif. earned a personal best on Saturday after reaching the finish line in 13.48 seconds. While Stewart was already the school’s second all-time performer for the event, he closed the gap on Cowling’s record of 13.39 seconds from 1982. His mark  also tied for the fastest winning time at the conference meet in eight years.

Stewart was by no means the only top talent at the meet, either. While he  finished second in the preliminaries with a time of 13.50, USC senior Brendan Ames led the qualifiers with a time of 13.39 that broke the meet record.

However, Stewart edged out his main competition by keeping his focus and slightly improving his time in the finals when Ames slowed down quite a bit. Stewart improved on his qualifying time and edged Ames, who finished in second with a 13.53.

Stewart’s conference hurdles title was one of the few bright spots for the Bears. Competing without a trio of three All-Americans  — distances runners Deborah Maier and Michael Coe, and triple jumper Hammed Suleiman — the Bears mustered an eighth place finish on the women’s side with 42 points, while the men finished ninth with 27 points.

Cal’s other notable individual performances were  runner-up finishes in the men’s high jump and the women’s triple jump. Junior Brian Carmichael cleared the high jump bar at a personal-best 7-1.50 on his very first attempt of the meet, while  senior Tracey Stewart turned in a repeat of last year’s second-place conference finish in the triple jump.

Her event featured a series of exciting back-and-forths with Stanford’s Whitney Liehr to determine the champion. Stewart took the lead with a mark of 42-4.25 on her fourth try, only to see Liehr claim the title with a winning jump of 43-3.25 on her sixth and final attempt.

The Bears return to action at the NCAA West Preliminaries, which take place May 26-28 in Eugene, Ore.

Byron Atashian covers track and field.