Uphill battle for Cal track and field

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For many athletes on Cal track and field, the Pac-12 Championships this weekend could be their last meet of the season. With the only remaining outdoor meet the NCAA nationals, those who hope to extend their season into the tournament will need to earn their spot to move forward.

After last weekend’s opening of the battle for the conference title with the Pac-12 Multi Championships, a much larger squad of Bears will be headed to Pullman, Wash. with the hopes of setting personal bests. Last year, at the Pac-12 Championships in Los Angeles, the men’s team finished eighth and the women finished ninth. This year, having captured the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) indoor season conference title, the men’s team looks much improved and poised to make some noise at the meet.

“I think the season has progressed very well,” said director of track and field Tony Sandoval. “There’s always some ups and downs. But to be honest with you, when we look at the total season, we evaluate including the championships in the season as well.”

Coming into this weekend’s competitions, the Bears will be at a slight disadvantage. With Andrew Cruikshank placing 11th in the Multis, he was unable to put up any points on the board for the men’s team. No. 3 Oregon and No. 15 USC already have taken commanding leads, with point totals of 21 and 11 respectively. On the women’s side, however, Jaci Powell managed to secure fifth and gave Cal four points heading into the major part of the competitions this weekend.

While the competition has a team scoring element to it, many athletes will be headed into the meet with individual objectives on their mind as well. Redshirt senior Hammed Suleman captured the long jump title at the championships last year with a mark of 25-11.50, and will be looking to defend that title this weekend. Another athlete to watch out for is redshirt senior Tom Blocker, who will be competing in the 100-meters, 200-meters, and four by 100-meter relay.

On the women’s side, junior Kelsey Santisteban, whose 5,000-meter time this season ranked fourth in the conference and 10,000-meter time ranked sixth in the conference, will be in action and is a strong contender in those events. Redshirt Malaina Payton is another strong candidate to perform well as her long jump marks this season rank her third amongst the field that will be competing.

A strong performance at the Pac-12s could mean a spot on the NCAA regional preliminaries. As many highlights the team had this year, the way the Bears perform this weekend will be a major factor in determining how this season will be remembered.

Kapil Kashyap covers track and field. Contact him at [email protected]