All roads lead to the 125th Big Meet for Cal track and field

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If you’ve ever been on a roller coaster, you know what anticipation feels like. That moment when an old, weathered car slowly climbs up a precarious wooden track, ticking like the last few seconds of the final class of the week, ready to throw you down into the wild weekend. That moment when, despite the reassurances of the man selling you your ticket, you wish you had given your dog a hug, just in case.

Then, you drop.

That anticipation — that rollercoaster of excitement and emotion — is running through the minds of Cal’s and Stanford’s respective track and field teams leading up to this weekend and the 125th Big Meet.

“The emotions during the week building up to the Big Meet are pretty special,” said Cal track and field director Tony Sandoval. “We’re very fortunate to have a meet that has that kind of history — that kind of tradition.”

Cobb Track and Angell Field will host the latest chapter in the storied rivalry between those in blue and gold and those in cardinal red when the Bears meet the Cardinal at Stanford.

It’s not the most important meet for either of these teams, at least statistically speaking. Neither is focused on specific marks or rankings.

“When the meet is over with, we’ll get on with the rest of our track and field season, but during this week, nothing matters other than winning the big meet,” Sandoval said.

This is it. All eyes and minds are turning to the competition ahead.

Cal enters the meet as the definite underdog. Both Stanford’s men’s and women’s teams are ranked in the top 20 nationally — neither of the Bears’ squads ranks in the top 45. Last season saw the Cardinal run away with both competitions.

This year may be more of the same. Stanford possesses better marks this season in every running event except for the 3,000-meter run, which it has not recorded a time for.

Gabe Navarro and Ashlan Best lead the men’s and women’s sprint teams respectively for the Cardinal, with the best times in the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints. Jessica Lawson will lead a mob of red uniforms in the 1,500-meter race, for which she holds the fourth fastest time in the country. On the men’s side, though, Stanford’s Thomas Ratcliffe will go head to head with Cal’s Garrett Corcoran, their season bests separated by .2 seconds.

The Bears do, however, enter the meet with better times in the hurdles — Jasher Foster, Paramveer Chohan and Deshae Wise are all favorites in their events. The steeplechase is another strength for Cal; sophomore Annie Boos and the experienced senior Takeshi Okada will both look to make their marks.

On Angell Field, Cal will feel the absence of injured All-American Lauren Martinez in the pole vault, an event that Stanford may take the top three places of. The rest of the field events are a patchwork of battles for dominance.

The Cardinal may have the upper hand in the javelin and high jump, while the Bears have top athletes in the long jump and discus. The 2019 outdoor debut of All-American Tuomas Kaukolahti will bode well for the Cal men’s jumps team.

While the numbers seem to point to specific results, Sandoval stresses the unpredictability of the meet.

“People surprise us because they want to beat Stanford, for whatever reason,” Sandoval explained. “They’ll rise to the occasion. They’ll do something heroic to score points. Nothing surprises me.”

Chance comes into play. The smallest of slips can lead to seismic shifts in the result of the meet. Batons get dropped. Records get broken. Expectations are shattered.

“Those things unfold, and that’s the great thing about the Big Meet,” Sandoval noted. “Very few places that have a meet that has that kind of emotion.”

Cal’s and Stanford’s track and field teams will meet for the 125th time this weekend. The anticipation from this week will crescendo before dropping into the chaos of a historic competition between the two Bay Area schools.

“We bring out the best in each other even though we’re rivals,” Sandoval summarized. “It’s good for us; it’s good for them.”

Jasper Sundeen covers track and field. Contact him at [email protected].