With all the uncertainty surrounding collegiate sports, the ability to travel and compete with your team — even if it looks different than it would under normal circumstances — is something athletes know they can’t take for granted. An event can be canceled at the very last second if even a single complication arises, so every in-person competition that takes place holds extra weight and importance.
Cal track and field competed at the Air Force Invitational on Friday and Saturday, and the women’s team brought home a first place victory with 12 other teams competing. This win is even more impressive considering that the last time the Bears competed was nearly a year ago, while some of the other teams, such as third-place BYU, have had the opportunity to compete more recently.
One of the athletes who helped accomplish this victory for the blue and gold, senior Deshae Wise, recognizes the significance behind the team’s win and is excited at the prospect of more invitationals to come. Wise took first in the 200 meters with a time of 24.39 seconds, moving into the top five on Cal’s all-time indoor rankings. Wise also placed second in the 60-meter hurdles.
As a senior during the COVID-19 pandemic, Wise understands that any invitational she participates in could be her last and competes accordingly. Returning to competition after almost a year felt slightly foreign to her, even though racing is something she’s done countless times.
“It felt like I was reading the same book that I just haven’t read in a long time,” Wise said. “I knew what to expect and I understood everything that was going to happen, but it was like a new experience doing the same thing. When you read an old book, it’s like, ‘Oh, I didn’t notice this or that,’ but instead of noticing things it’s just COVID.”
For many of the Bears, it was their first time being on an airplane since the pandemic began. On top of traveling to another state, there’s no doubt that staying at a hotel and facing off against other schools felt almost foreign after such a long time without organized competition.
The Air Force Academy took many precautions, such as mandating masks at all times except when competing and enforcing a rigorous testing schedule. These measures ensured not only the safety of the teams attending but also the comfort of individual athletes, knowing they weren’t risking their health just to compete.
“Right before we raced, (officials at the invitational) said, ‘Runners, take your masks off, take your marks …’ ” Wise said.
One thing that remained constant even amid the pandemic-related changes was senior Camryn Rogers’ first place victory in the weight throw. At the last five consecutive invitationals Rogers has attended, including the NCAA Division I outdoor championships, she has placed first in a throwing event. Rogers is an impressive force on the Cal women’s team who is sure to help the blue and gold notch more team wins to come.
Other performances that stood out at the invitational include those of two brand-new Bears, freshman Busola Akinduro and junior transfer Christian Catlin, who claimed victories at their very first invitational with Cal. Akinduro secured a second-place finish in the triple jump and made it to fourth on Cal’s all-time indoor list. Catlin came in second place in the 60 meters and is now tied for seventh on Cal’s all-time indoor list.
Wise is thrilled with how she and her team competed this past weekend and is ready for the next Air Force Invitational scheduled for Feb. 19 at the same track in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In preparation for the next meet, Wise continues to have the mentality that “because of COVID, any meet could be our last, and we have to compete as such.”
Mia Horne covers track and field and cross country. Contact her at [email protected]