Balance is key for Cal track and field at Pac-12 Championships

Karen Chow/Senior Staff

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Every person from every walk of life struggles with finding balance in life. Between the things we want to do and the things we must do — between work and play — balance is hard to find and even harder to maintain.

For Cal track and field, that struggle manifests itself as student-athletes work to balance those opposing halves of their lives: the student and the athlete. It serves as a reminder of the hardships that Division I athletes face, regardless of their sport.

Throughout this track season, Director of Track and Field Tony Sandoval has constantly mentioned this week as an obstacle looming on the horizon, reinforcing the difficulty Cal athletes face when preparing for testing in the classroom and the Pac-12 Championships on the track.

“It’s going to be a challenge for us, as it is every year, because it’s right in the middle of final examinations,” Sandoval said. “Historically, most freshmen don’t compete their very best at the Pac-12s.”

Coaches and athletes work around it, though, and this year should be no different.

“What you’ve got to do is give them time to recover from the stress of school and the stress of training and traveling,” Sandoval explained. “There’s an art of how to back off so they can regenerate.”

The Bears must regenerate in time for the this weekend’s Pac-12 Championships, where the men’s team may be able to make a statement. The men’s team enters Arizona’s Roy P. Drachman Track and Field Stadium with 8 points already on the board from freshman Hakim McMorris’ performance at the Pac-12 Multi-Events Championships.

But there’s still work to do, as the Pac-12 Championships feature five schools ranked in the men’s top 25.

Cal’s men are easily outmatched in sprints, but the Bears may yet be competitive in distance events. 800-meter runners Moises Medrano and Ben Micallef are both underclassmen but redshirt senior Ellis Newton adds experience, and Cal may be able to take some points in that race. Meanwhile, upperclassmen Garrett Corcoran and Paul Zeiss have real opportunities to place in the top eight and score in the 1,500-meter and 10,000-meter races, respectively.

The men’s best opportunity to gain ground will come on the field and in the hurdles. Junior Jasher Foster, graduate student Misana Viltz and junior Paramveer Chohan have excelled in the hurdles this season, while seniors Takeshi Okada and Kai Benedict should both target a top-five finish in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

The field will witness junior Tuomas Kaukolahti, the reigning Pac-12 triple jump champion, seek to defend his conference title. The early season loss of All-American junior McKay Johnson has hurt the Bears’ throws team, but behind senior Silviu Bocancea and sophomore Iffy Joyner, Cal should score in the hammer throw and discus.

The critical events for the Bears on the men’s side are in distance and shot put, where many athletes enter the meet with marks narrowly outside the top eight.

“We’re going to have a mix — some people that step up and some people that burn up,” Sandoval said.

Cal’s women face a stiffer challenge. After finishing 10th in this season’s MPSF Indoor Championships, the Bears enter a meet where seven of their opposing teams are ranked in the top 25, including No. 3 USC and No. 5 Oregon.

The Bears are not completely without hope. Cal narrowly lost to No. 22 Stanford in this season’s Big Meet, hanging with the Cardinal event for event before fading in the 3,000-meter race and 4×400-meter relay, the last two events of the day.

Led by sprinter junior Zion Corrales Nelson and a talented 4×100-meter relay team, as well as distance runners sophomore Annie Boos and senior Rebecca Croft, Cal could pull off multiple surprises if its women take another step forward.

Oregon and USC will be the schools to beat though, as their women are among the best in the nation, USC has the top-two 4×100-meter times in the country — a nearly unheard of feat.

“They’ll have plenty of competition,” Sandoval said. “There’s no hamburger competitors in the meet, that’s for sure.”

This weekend, the Bears will compete against both their rival Pac-12 schools and their impending academic requirements. The difficulty of being student-athletes will be on full display. To be successful, the Bears must find that balance on and off the track.

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