Cal’s senior standouts will leave behind a sizeable void

Kevin Foote/File

The Cal track and field team’s seniors were the story in 2011 — and will be next season, as well; their success this past spring begs the question of who will step up in their place.

“We’re pleased that we had some success, but there are a lot of improvements that we need to make,” coach Tony Sandoval said. “We will have to rebuild with a younger group of our team.”

One senior star, Mike Morrison, won the NCAA outdoor title in the decathlon on June 10 help the men to a 13th place finish in the NCAA Program of the Year rankings. Morrison placed fifth in the heptathlon at the NCAA Indoor Championships earlier this season before claiming his collegiate decathlon crown by with a school-record total of 8,118 points.

“I came into college with the goal of winning an NCAA championship, this is what I’ve been working for for five years,” he said. “To accomplish it is really rewarding.”

Morrison set six personal bests along the way to becoming the fourth Bear to win the decathlon title and the 36th to become an NCAA track and field champion. Of the team’s five-athlete contingent to the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, four were seniors.

Kristen Meister, the Cal record holder with a height of 6-1.25 in the high jump, finished in a tie for seventh to earn All-America honors while Tracey Stewart, a two-time Pac-10 runner-up in the triple jump, finished 10th in her event.

However, the duo’s efforts alone could not earn the women’s squad a spot in the NCAA Program of the Year rankings. Cal was not always at full strength, as long-distance runners Sofia Oberg and Deborah Maier were slowed by injuries.

“The women aren’t quite there and that’s an area that we have to continue to address with recruiting and coaching, but we need to get better on both sides no matter what,” Sandoval said.

On the men’s side, Hammed Suleman was regularly recording over 50 feet in the triple jump before suffering a stress fracture in his shin. He placed 12th in the event at the NCAA Indoor Championships earlier this season before the injury forced him to redshirt for the outdoor campaign.

Meanwhile, Cal’s lone non-senior from the NCAA Outdoor Championships shoulders some serious expectations for his final year; junior Ray Stewart, this year’s Pac-10 champion in the 110m hurdles, hurt his hamstring in the preliminaries and was disqualified from his heat at the Championships.

“There wasn’t a lot of time for that (hamstring) to heal up, it got a little better but it wasn’t 100 percent,” Sandoval said. “He had a terrible start and hit a bunch of hurdles, that was a big disappointment.”

Replacing the outgoing talent will be no small feat for Cal, but having Suleman and Stewart around should make the transition easier. Another returning athlete with the potential to bolster the Bears is Collin Jarvis, a sophomore who made a difference in  cross country — as well as in the 3000m during the track and field campaign.

Still, the upcoming season should bring its share of growing pains for Cal.

“We have some good recruits coming in but they’re going to be freshmen,” Sandoval said. “Next year will be a rebuilding year for us.”

Byron Atashian covers track and field.