Anything will look good if you stand far enough away. If you step back enough — if you looked at the earth from space, for example — everything would seem perfect.
Now take a step forward. If you look closely, nothing is what it appears. Perfection is elusive — it flees when we focus, always beyond our grasp.
At least, that’s what Cal track and field’s head coach Tony Sandoval seemed to think: “Nobody has hit perfection yet,” he remarked.
Sandoval had high goals for his team going into the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, or MPSF, Championships, targeting six individual wins and top-five finishes for both teams. Results were mixed in a competitive, regional meet.
“There are no cheap points,” Sandoval said. “Whatever you get, you earn.”
The men’s team made a statement at Dempsey Indoor, tallying 63 overall points and three individual wins while scoring a third-place overall finish and tying national powerhouses USC and Oregon.
As always, there is still room for improvement. Rival team UCLA finished in second place, 13 points above Cal, and BYU finished 30 points ahead of the Bears to win the meet. Additionally, Oregon and USC elected to rest some of their top athletes in preparation for the NCAA Indoor Championships next month.
“A number of individuals really distinguished themselves,” Sandoval stated. After finishing outside the top five a year ago, the head coach seemed pleased with the performance.
Final entries for the NCAA Indoor Championships will be announced soon, but the Bears currently have three athletes in position to compete for a national title.
McKay Johnson broke his own school record in the shot put, ranking fifth nationally and positioning himself to compete for both All-American honors and a national title. He finished in second at the MPSF Championships in what Sandoval described as an “emotional and heated competition.”
Tyler Brendel won the men’s heptathlon with a score of 5553. He sits at 16th in the national rankings, and — somewhat unexpectedly — is hanging on to the final qualifying spot for NCAAs.
Tuomas Kaukolahti won the triple jump for the second consecutive year, landing a jump that is ranked 11th nationally and will likely carry him to the NCAA championships in March. Freshman Jalyn Jackson was another standout in the triple, finishing third in his first collegiate championship meet.
Though they did not qualify for national championships, hurdlers Jasher Foster and Misana Viltz put in top performances and finished first and fourth in the 60-meter hurdles. Paramveer Chohan “barely, barely got nosed out,” in the 400-meter sprint, finishing just two-tenths of a second away from first place.
Cal’s women finished their indoor season on a lower note. Injuries and inexperience plagued the Bears down the stretch as they competed against some of the top schools in the country — USC and Oregon are ranked second and third nationally. All-American Lauren Martinez would have been a favorite to win the pole vault and was instead sidelined with a broken leg, depriving the Bears of what would have been key points, as they finished in a tie for 10th.
Despite the underwhelming team performance, Camryn Rogers still rallied for Cal, notching the Bears’ only individual title on the first day of competition as she took first in the weight throw. It was one of only two top-five finishes for the women.
“The women are very, very young,” Sandoval said when asked about their performances. “Those events are loaded; they need to mature and get a couple of years under their belt.”
While this may not have been women track and field’s greatest achievement, it is a solid foundation on which to build. The team recorded eight top-10 finishes, all of which came from athletes who are eligible to return next season. The Bears must take a step forward to be competitive in the outdoor season, which begins in March.
After a competitive weekend of track and field, teams from across the nation will shift their focus to the national stage in the pursuit of perfection. They may not arrive there this season, but it cannot be denied that the chase is on with the NCAA Indoor Championships just around the corner.
Jasper Sundeen covers track and field. Contact him at