This week, Cal track and field athletes freshmen Walt Jones IV and Bethan Knights, sophomore Ethan Cochran and junior Thomas Joyce headed to Eugene, Oregon, where the NCAA Outdoor Championships are being held. For Joyce and Jones, the festivities began — and ended — on Wednesday, while Knights and Cochran have to wait until Friday and Saturday, respectively, to compete for the coveted title of NCAA Outdoor champions.
The quartet of Bears has been turning heads since the outdoor season officially got started March 7. Since then, the four athletes have made their way onto Cal’s All-time Performers List at least once, and they have been posting solid performances at every meet. Their willingness to go for it all has brought them to the final stage of their journey.
In just one season, Cal’s two freshman athletes competing this week have demonstrated the maturity needed to compete on a Division I team and are showing head coach Tony Sandoval exactly why Cal recruited them. Knights has also been busy adding her name to the Cal record book, gaining freshman school records in both the 1,500-meter and 3,000-meter races. She currently owns the fifth best time in school history in the 5,000-meter after officially competing in the event only twice and will run it for the third time Saturday.
“My race isn’t until Saturday, so right now, I’m just chilling and trying not to get nervous for the race,” Knights said. “I’m just trying to take it all in and enjoy the experience.”
Fellow freshman Jones — who is heading back to Oregon after transferring from Oregon State — made his presence felt on the team in his first meet, with a long-jump distance of 7.73 meters at the Cal Outdoor Opener held March 7. His jump earned him the eighth best distance in Cal’s history in the event. On the first day of the championships, Jones set a new legal personal record with a distance of 7.79 meters on his long jump and finished in seventh place, which is the best finishing place by an athlete from the Cal men’s team since 1995.
Like Jones, Cochran made his mark at the Cal Outdoor Opener with a discus thrown at a distance of 57.99 meters to place 10th on Cal’s All-Time Performers List, and his final distance of 55.79 meters at the NCAA West Regionals was enough to secure an opportunity to compete at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. He will be competing Friday to try to seal the deal on his impressive season.
On the other hand, Joyce was trying to cap off an impressive 2015 outdoor season by ending on a winning note and becoming a national champion. The highlight of his season came against Stanford at the Big Meet, clocking in a 1,500-meter time of 3:39.43, setting not only the Big Meet record in the event but also the school record. Unfortunately, Joyce was unable to make it past the preliminary round of the 1,500-meter Wednesday and will not be heading to the finals Friday. He finished with a final time of 3:48.30, finishing 21st in the event.
With the first day of the four-day event in the books with Jones’ impressive performance and Joyce’s disappointing loss, the focus will shift to Knights and Cochran to see how they will fare at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Chris Tril covers track and field. Contact him at [email protected].