Summer will be in full swing when the Bears step off their plane and into Austin, Texas, for the NCAA Track and Field Championships, and it won’t just be temperatures that will rise.
Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin will become the world’s largest slow cooker as athletes from around the nation ramp up the pressure and begin to roast some soon-to-be-seen drama.
“This is what we all train for — to go to the big dance,” said Cal track and field director Tony Sandoval.
Eight Bears will compete over the weekend, each hoping to do well enough in the preliminary round of 24 athletes to make it to the finals.
Tuomas Kaukolahti, triple jump
The Helsinki native is making his second straight appearance at the national championships after finishing in 18th last season. After he finished seventh at the NCAA Indoor Championships in the same competition, though, it is safe to say that Kaukolahti’s expectations are suitably higher.
Kaukolahti faces stiff competition and will need to leap into the top nine to book a spot in the final round, but his personal best would have made him the top seed this weekend had he achieved the feat during the NCAA West Prelims.
The seed marks are a poor litmus test for the actual event, though, as many triple jumpers did only what they needed to do to make it to Austin. Now, the stakes are real, and no one will hold back.
Paramveer Chohan, 400 meter hurdles
Chohan has been a blossoming talent on this Cal squad, with few on the team possessing less natural ability.
But “P.C.”, as he is known by some of those teammates, has been hot and cold so far this season. He dropped a personal best en route to a second-place finish at the Pac-12 Championships before dropping to become the last man in at the NCAA West Prelims.
“If he’s on, he should be in contention to make the finals,” Sandoval said.
Iffy Joyner, discus
In his first full season with the Bears, Bay Area local Iffy Joyner has surpassed expectations en route to a spot in Austin.
Joyner is decidedly in the middle of the pack, though perhaps toward the bottom of that particular mix. Making the finals is achievable for Joyner, who can use his position in the second flight to target a top-nine finish.
Silviu Bocancea, hammer throw
Bocancea has put himself in the second flight, and while he is not a top contender, he is perfectly positioned to snap up a spot in the finals. The senior earned the 15th seed and needs to crack the top nine, but he is well within range of a finals spot.
“Split seconds and inches make a difference. At this level, you’ve got to bring your A-game,” Sandoval said.
Rebecca Croft, 800-meter
Rebecca Croft will seek to put a cherry on top of what has been a fantastic season running the grueling 800-meter. The senior, who hails from Bourne End, England, pulled off an upset at the NCAA West Prelims, which, though not spicy, was anything but mild.
Though she is ranked fifth in her heat, the English senior is in one of the objectively slower heats and, if she can put out another personal best, may extend her career on this side of the Atlantic.
Camryn Rogers, hammer throw
The Canadian sophomore will throw Thursday afternoon not only as a favorite to make the finals, but also as a legitimate contender for a national championship.
“The one who has a good chance to get on the podium, maybe even win, is Camryn Rogers,” Sandoval said.
Rogers has the second seed in the tournament and has beaten top competition in both the Pac-12 Championships and the NCAA West Prelims.
But Rogers has yet to face Tennessee’s Stamatia Scarvelis, who owns the top seed this week. Rogers has a better personal record, but it will take more than that to win a national championship.
Zion Corrales Nelson, 200-meter dash
Corrales Nelson has had a breakout season this far, as the junior has set the second-best time in school history in this event as well as a Philippines national record.
The runner will face her stiffest challenge this week, though, as Corrales Nelson enters Thursday night’s preliminary round with the slowest-seeded time in the competition. Her heat also features three sprinters from powerhouse USC.
Corrales Nelson must crack the top two to automatically qualify or, failing that, record one of the next two best times. While a head-to-head race may breed chaos and therefore opportunity, Corrales Nelson will need a small miracle to keep her season alive.