Their palms are sweaty. Knees weak. Arms heavy.
The Cal track and field team isn’t heading to 8 Mile, but it has to be feeling pretty much the same heading to Austin, Texas, for the NCAA West Regional. Despite the underlying nerves, the Bears appear calm and ready to participate against some of the best competition in the West Coast to be able to make it to the NCAA Outdoor Championships — an opportunity that comes only once in a lifetime for most.
For almost three months, the Blue and Gold have been training their hardest and giving their all to have this chance to compete against the best of the West. At season’s end, 16 members of Cal’s men’s team and four members of the women’s team have proven worthy of this privilege.
“We’re excited for the opportunity to compete with all of the best athletes west of the Mississippi,” said junior distance runner Thomas Joyce. “Everyone will be fighting for a national championship berth, and I believe that we have many athletes that could make it.”
Four athletes from the women’s team will be competing in Austin for Cal, with freshman Bethan Knights running the 5,000-meter and freshman Ashley Anderson, sophomore Kiare Tanner and senior Rukayah Bent-Mikail all competing in the triple jump. While the women’s team did not fare well this season, these four athletes proved to be bright spots for the team and are ready for their shot at a national title.
“I’ve only ever done one 5K before, and a lot of girls have done it loads of times,” Knights said. “But that’s what makes it exciting — to see what I can do in this race, as I feel it’s a great distance for me right now.”
For the men’s team, Cal’s short-distance runners will be represented by sophomore Khalfani Muhammad in the 100-meter, freshman Ellis Newton and sophomore Eugene Hamilton III in the 800-meter race, and freshman Ashtyn Davis and junior Jonte Turner participating in the 110-meter and 400-meter hurdles, respectively. Of the four, Hamilton III ranks the highest in his respective event, owning the 15th seed in the West for the 800-meter race after a 1:48.18 finish during last week’s Pac-12 Championships.
The middle-distance participants for Cal have been putting up stellar numbers all season. Thomas Joyce will be competing in the 1,500-meter and owns the second-best time for that event in the entire West with a time of 3:39.45. Fellow junior Leland Later and sophomore Josh Lewis — who are the 20th and 27th seeds with season bests of 3:43.20 and 3:43.90, respectively — will also be running the 1,500-meter.
The majority of participants for Cal will be competing in various field events, with eight athletes taking on six events. From freshman Walter Jones competing in his first NCAA Regionals to redshirt senior Scott Esparza competing in his last, the levels of talent these athletes bring are sure to create some stellar results.
These Bears have one shot — one opportunity — to seize a spot at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. The only question is: Will they capture it this weekend? Or will they let it slip?
Chris Tril covers track and field. Contact him at [email protected].