Cal track and field team opens indoor season at Cherry and Silver Invitational

The Cal track and field team will be looking to sprint out of the starting blocks this season at the Cherry and Silver Invitational on Friday and Saturday.

The meet marks the start of the team’s indoor track season and is hosted by the University of New Mexico, which will also host the NCAA Indoor Championships in mid-March. As a result, many track and field powerhouses such as Stanford University, the University of Texas and Florida State will be at the meet to get a feel for what it’s like to run in the altitude.

The Bears had some success at the meet last year that they hope to replicate. Two of the three men — redshirt senior Hammed Suleman and Jonte Grant, who swept the men’s triple jump last year — are back. So are the winners of the women’s weight throw, redshirt junior Chioma Amaechi; men’s weight throw, redshirt senior Derek White; and men’s 400-meter hurdles, sophomore Randy Bermea.

Cal also lost some top performers from last year’s team, but head coach Tony Sandoval said he isn’t too worried, because the team has “people that are in the wings.”

“I call that the vacuum principle — when someone leaves, it’s an opportunity for someone to step in and gain some experience,” Sandoval said.

There are plenty of people vying to fill this void. Sandoval said he’s seen many encouraging things in practice, but he wants to see how different athletes compete at a meet on a bigger stage.

This includes several runners who will be wearing the blue and gold for the first time, including freshman running back Khalfani Muhammad, who is expected to compete in the 60- and 200-meter events this weekend.

Because the track season is essentially split in two — the indoor season and the outdoor season — it can be difficult for runners to decide which races to “peak” for, essentially when runners should cut down on their mileage leading up to a big race. This can be tough, though, because runners need to have a lot of mileage as they head toward the next season. The NCAA Outdoor Championships take place in mid-June, so there can be a quick turnaround between the two parts of the season.

For this reason, Sandoval said he’s going to be careful with junior Kelsey Santisteban, who already had a long cross-country season since she qualified for the NCAAs and was running later in the year than many of her teammates.

He said he looks at the season as a kind of bank account. Each year, the goal is to get better and better, but players can’t do that if they keep competing and have no room for “deposits.” As a result, athletes compete only when Sandoval thinks his athletes need to compete or when they have their best shot at qualifying for NCAAs.

Last year’s season wasn’t too different from the norm, with a “mixture of ups and downs” that are expected to continue again this year.

“Some people do better than expected, and some struggle with injury,” Sandoval said. “And there’s always someone that rises to the top.”

With an overarching goal to have runners qualify for the NCAAs, Cal is looking at this meet as an opportunity to establish competitive patterns and learn how to do all the little things, such as how the team travels and prepares for a meet, correctly.

“It’s going to be a heck of an opening to the season,” Sandoval said.

Shannon Carroll covers baseball. Contact her at [email protected].