Sports are chock-full of balance. Fortune comes and goes; there are no winners without losers. One’s jubilation means another’s heartbreak.
Or, to be less dramatic, you get good days and bad days.
Last weekend, Cal track and field dispersed across California in order to qualify for next month’s NCAA West Prelims. The Bears sent athletes to four specialized meets in order to face top competition and produce better qualifying marks.
After a triumphant and exciting Big Meet against rival Stanford two weeks ago, fate swung in the opposite direction.
Track and field director Tony Sandoval’s stated goal going into his team’s busy weekend was for each athlete to “maximize a qualifying opportunity.”
Opportunities went largely unmaximized.
Only three Bears put up qualifying marks for the western region, as Jasher Foster, Paul Zeiss and Camryn Rogers had performances that put them in the region’s top 48. While other Cal athletes won their events, the aforementioned goal of qualifying went largely unmet.
Decathletes Hakim McMorris and Tyler Brendel were the first Bears to compete at the Bryan Clay Invitational and Multi at Azusa Pacific University. McMorris won his decathlon group but fell behind his personal best. Brendel would not finish after failing to record a mark in the pole vault.
“He waited too long, to be honest with you, to jump,” Sandoval explained. “By the time it came to jump, he was cold. So he no-heighted.”
The early finish is surely a disappointment for Brendel, who — despite making nationals in indoor track and field — has failed to finish a decathlon this season.
“I’m going to cut off his little finger for that,” Sandoval joked. “It happens. He has two weeks to get ready for the Pac-12 decathlon.”
The nation’s top throwers gathered in Long Beach State for the prestigious Beach Invitational. Cal sent eight of its best to the Southern California coast. Rogers broke her own school record in the hammer throw with a mark that stands as the third best in the nation. No other Cal athlete cracked a personal record at the meet, leaving them with work to do ahead of the impending regionals.
A majority of the Bears found themselves farther to the north, competing at the Mt. SAC Relays. Despite a number of athletes competing in prestigious invitational events, only Zeiss and Foster were able to post regional qualifying marks.
“There were some decent marks with us. I think spread over three days, our kids lose a little focus,” Sandoval shrugged. “We just didn’t step up.”
Zeiss followed up an important 3,000-meter run at the Big Meet with a personal best at Mt. SAC’s 10,000 meters, while Foster notched a personal best and won the collegiate 400-meter hurdles.
Foster was one of four Bears to win their events, but none of the other three — Tuomas Kaukolahti, Jared Geredes and Rebecca Croft — were able to improve their regional rankings.
16 Cal athletes finished in the top 10 of the Cardinal Classic, a lower-ranking meet hosted by Stanford. The Bears were led there by Sara East, who recorded a season best and took second in the 100 meters.
“It’s not like you have a tidal wave of (personal records),” Sandoval replied when asked about his team’s lack of qualifying times. “It’s about getting experience.”
The meets featured numerous events spread out across two or three days, making it difficult for athletes to focus and perform at a high level. Sandoval compared this type of multiday meet to those run by professionals. The Pac-12 championships and NCAA prelims and championships will feature the same format.
“As a younger one, they feed off everybody else’s excitement and energy. In a smaller, collegiate meet, that’s good, but in a big, multilevel meet, it’s a challenge,” Sandoval summarized. “As I told them at the end, there’s no mistakes — only lessons.”
Cal will hope that those lessons can steer the winds of fortune in a different direction as they run their last regular-season meet this weekend.