Cal track and field sets several personal bests at 2014 NCAAs

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At the national championships, 0.02 seconds can make a difference. It can be the dividing line between advancing to the next round and seeing your season end in a crushing defeat. Cal’s Thomas Joyce was fortunate enough to see the better side of that deal, advancing to the finals in his event in stunning fashion.

From Wednesday to Saturday, Cal track and field competed in the 2014 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Unfortunately, none of the Bears’ representation was able to secure the elusive national title when facing the top-ranked track and field athletes in the country. But a few did set personal records and demonstrated the kind of progress that generates optimism about next year’s season for Cal.

On day one, the lone competitor was the 4×100-meter relay team, which consists of freshman Khalfani Muhammad, redshirt junior Dan Davis and redshirt seniors Dash Oliver and Tom Blocker. Their time of 40.17 seconds placed them 22nd overall but was short of their season record of 39.91 seconds, which they set at the Pac-12 championships and at the West Regional Preliminaries.

The Bears were more competitive on day two, with sophomore Joyce narrowly clinching a spot to the final of the 1500 meters by 0.02 seconds. His time of 3:41.67 edged out Kentucky’s Matt Hillenbrand to earn the last qualifying spot for the final.

“Everyone began their kick the 150 meters, with Thomas closing fast,” said director of track and field Tony Sandoval to Cal Athletics. “But everyone swung wide, and he hugged the rail and had enough to pass the others who were fading. He was able to nose out Hillenbrand for the last timed qualifier position, which was a brilliant and instinctual move on his part.”

Other Cal athletes, however, weren’t as fortunate as Joyce. Redshirt senior Hammed Suleman, the two-time Pac-12 long jump champion, missed out on the final rounds of competition by a quarter of an inch and ended up finishing 10th. Senior Milan Ristic was also unable to qualify for the finals in the 110-meter hurdles after finishing fifth in his heat and ultimately placed 15th.

“At the NCAA championships, the difference between reaching a final is so small,” Sandoval said to Cal Athletics. “Thomas makes it by just 0.02 seconds, while Hammed just misses by a quarter of an inch.”

In the final two days, redshirt senior Derek White,redshirt sophomore Jonte Grant and Joyce were the lone athletes remaining for Cal. White finished 17th in the discus, unable to match his previous best throws. Grant and Joyce, on the other hand, both set personal records for themselves in the triple jump and 1500 meters, respectively, but it still wasn’t enough. Grant finished 14th, and Joyce placed 11th in the final round.

Arguably the biggest disappointment of these championships for the Bears was the inability of junior Kelsey Santisteban to compete due to an unspecified injury. Going into the competitions, Santisteban had the best shot of any Bear at earning a national title, having qualified in two events. Ultimately, she pulled out of the 10,000 meters with a few laps remaining, and she was unable to compete in the 5,000 meters. With one year remaining in her track career, next season looks bright for Cal track and field.

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