Something special was brewing on a sunny Saturday in the South Bay. As the afternoon jogged by at Cobb Track and Angell Field, it became clearer that Cal’s and Stanford’s track and field teams were cooking up excitement for the 125th Big Meet.
“It was very obvious from the beginning that Stanford brought their A-game,” said Tony Sandoval, Cal’s track and field director. “People were stepping up.”
You could taste the tension as each event ended and the scores were tallied. Inch by inch, the competition turned into a classic. Both teams refused to flinch, and the Big Meet came down to the wire.
The day started with the javelin. Stanford has some of the top javelin athletes in the nation, and they did not disappoint — Mackenzie Little produced the top mark in the country this season en route to winning the event, while Liam Christensen won the men’s competition and threw himself into third, nationally.
Cal, however, took critical third-place points thanks to Tuomas Kaukolahti, who also won the triple jump. Senior Christine Glasmann broke her own school record with a mark that is fourth-best in the Pac-12.
“I’m happy I could end it on a good note,” Glasmann, who is now targeting an appearance at nationals, said. “It was my last Big Meet, but it was my best Big Meet.”
The third-place finishes picked up a point-a-piece, but each of those points became critical as the afternoon turned into the evening.
Camryn Rogers broke her school record in the hammer throw, crushing her previous mark by more than 5 feet and flirting with breaking the Canadian U-23 record.
Cal took the advantage in the next few events, winning both 4×100 meter relays. The Bears’ women continued their dominant season in that competition, beating Stanford easily. The men’s relay was significantly closer, with the Bears beating out the Cardinal by .03 seconds.
Stanford responded by nearly sweeping both 1,500-meter races — Andrew Burkhardt of Cal was the only Bear to score, snatching a single point in the men’s event. All-American Grant Fisher blazed ahead, winning the 1,500 and leading the Cardinal to double-digit leads.
On Angell Field, Stanford’s Aria Small and Cal’s Windy Margerum battled it out in the long and triple jump for the women, with Small ultimately leaping to first in both. Cal’s men won those events, but Stanford’s first- and second-place finishes in the high jump kept the meet close.
Iffy Joyner set a stellar personal best in the discus before Joshua Johnson did the same in the shot put, leading the Bears to a sweep of that event.
The Bears won three of four hurdle events, and the absence of performances from Stanford standouts Ashlan Best and Gabe Navarro prevented the Cardinal from performing in sprints. Cal’s women won every sprint event behind the fleet-footed Zion Corrales Nelson, who won the 200- and 400-meter races.
“It was just basically a breakthrough meet for me — I’ve been running kind of slow,” Corrales Nelson said. “I think it was just the energy of Big Meet. I was zeroing in on just getting points for my team.”
Her focus paid off, as Corrales Nelson recorded a personal best in the 200-meter race while also running crucial legs in the 4×100 and 4×400 relays.
The 800-meter races saw each athlete leave their heart on the track. Ben Micallef and Moises Medrano seemed to have caught Stanford’s Hari Sathyamurthy after 700 meters of pure competition. Fisher would steal the show, though, as the Cardinal senior broke up the leading Bears and took first at the very end. Jordyn Colter stole third place in the meet’s closest finish, edging out Stanford’s Julia Heymach by just .002 seconds.
Both teams traded single-digit leads as the afternoon wore on. Stanford’s Miles Zoltak and Louis Stenmark would win the men’s 200-meter and 400-meter sprints, respectively, with sophomore Stenmark wrapping up the sixth fastest time in the Pac-12.
The sun began to set as scores from the women’s discus tipped the meet back into Cal’s favor, leaving the Bears with a 2-point lead and only the 3,000 meters and 4×400 relay left. A tactical masterclass in the 3,000, however, would reverse the Cardinal’s fortunes, as Stanford swept the women’s event and won the meet before its victory in the 4×400 relay.
The men’s overall competition would be even closer. Paul Zeiss came in third in the men’s 3,000 meters and gave the Bears a 2-point lead ahead of the last event of the day: the men’s 4×400 meter relay.
In Big Meet tradition, both teams lined up on either side of the track to cheer their athletes through the last 100 meters of each leg.
The two teams exchanged leads through the first two legs before Adam Saleh took the slightest of advantages as the third runner for Cal — the Bears would not look back, as anchor Paramveer Chohan won the day.
“I was really pleased with the fact that we had the lead coming into my leg,” Chohan said, smiling after locking up the men’s half of the meet. He also won the 400-meter hurdles and men’s 4×100 relay. “I was happy with everyone. I was very much preparing for the worst, and it ended up being the best possible scenario.”
“I come to see who’s going to surprise me, and we did a heck of a job,” Sandoval said after witnessing his men’s team capture a victory in his 37th and final Big Meet. “I didn’t think we could win the relay.”
Sandoval was honored before the meet as he culminates his storied coaching career. Despite Sandoval’s desire to focus on his athletes, his impending retirement was, doubtless, a motivator for the Bears.
“I thought this was really special because it was coach Sandoval’s last meet,” Chohan said. “We just really wanted to send him out with a win.”
Cal’s men won 85-78, and Stanford’s women triumphed 86-74 in one of the closest Big Meets in recent memory.
“This is a special event, a special competition,” Sandoval summarized as his team made its way toward the bus. “There are very few places that have that.”
The 125th Big Meet was certainly one for the history books.