In an interview Tuesday, Kobe Bryant stated that during his career, he incessantly studied the game of opponent Allen Iverson, learning every little aspect of his game. But this attentiveness came only after Bryant personally saw what Iverson could do on the court. Bryant demonstrated that scouting and watching film are two of the most advantageous strategies in the world of sports, but even still, little compares to seeing your opponents in person and going head-to-head with them.
For many college sports teams, as is the case for Cal track and field, schools generally compete in localized regions. This type of scheduling limits the amount of times a team will see its competitors and often limits its background knowledge to faceless statistics. As the Bears head to the 90th annual Kansas Relays, they will compete face-to-face with top opponents who, for the duration of the season, had merely been names on a leaderboard.
Thousands of miles separate UC Berkeley and Southern Illinois University, but shot putters junior Peter Simon of Cal and junior Jared Kern of Southern Illinois have a connection of mere inches. Simon, who holds the ninth spot in the national rankings at 19.41 meters, trails less than a foot behind Kern’s fifth-ranked mark of 19.65 meters. Simon will be competing against himself in trying to record a new personal best, but he must also topple a distinguished Kern if he is to grace the top tier of the podium.
Junior Destiny Parker, 22nd in the country in the hammer throw, will also get to put a face to 13th-ranked senior Freya Block of Southern Illinois. Block’s throw of 63.19 meters is nearly five feet longer than Parker’s best of 61.69 meters, which she acquired just two weeks ago. To add that much distance to a mark in such a minimal span of time is a seemingly insurmountable task — but Parker has proved to be tenacious throughout the season. Both athletes will be looking to improve upon their previous work, but the top of the podium only has room for one thrower.
Sophomore Lauren Martinez, with a 19th-ranked mark of 4.17 meters, will be the top seed going into the pole vault event, but a place on the podium is far from a sure thing. Kansas junior Laura Taylor is only three places down from Martinez’s rank — a difference of only four inches. While the mere inches separating their marks may not be perceptible to the crowd at Rock Chalk Park, these miniscule distances will be the difference between first, second and missing the podium.
As the Bears touch down in Lawrence, Kansas, they are going to face some of the best athletes in the country, and it is likely that the Bears could meet these same competitors again in the coveted NCAA Championships. Cal track and field has the opportunity to not only up its marks and win out events, but also study its competition and perhaps gain an upper hand if their paths cross in the future.
Christie Aguilar covers track and field. Contact her at [email protected].