Second time’s the charm: Bears ready to take on Air Force Invitational, again

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In such an abbreviated track and field season, it’s no surprise that everything feels like it’s happening rather quickly. With fewer invitationals this year than a regular year, the season not only feels shortened, but each meet seems to carry an extra weight of importance.

Cal track and field is returning to Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Friday to compete at the second Air Force Invitational of the season. This will be the second-to-last invite the team will have a chance to participate in before the NCAA Indoor Championships. A lot is at stake for those hoping to qualify, and for some, it may be the close to the final meet of the indoor season.

The Bears are at a disadvantage heading into the invitational, compared to some of the other teams that have had more opportunities to prepare for the NCAA Indoor Championships. Every invitational is a chance to qualify, and the more chances you get, the more likely you are to hit the required time or mark in order to gain eligibility.

Assistant throws coach Mohamad Saatara isn’t concerned about his team’s lack of in-person competitive experience this season. Saatara recognizes how fortunate the Bears are to be able to showcase their talent during a pandemic and looks forward to the results from the upcoming invitational.

“Some schools have had more competitions, some have had less, but you just have to maximize your opportunities,” Saatara said.

Qualifying for the NCAA Indoor Championships requires placing top 16 in the nation in a particular event. With such intense competition around the country, making it into the top 16 is no easy task.

So far, Cal senior Camryn Rogers is the only member of the blue and gold in position to qualify for the NCAA Indoor Championships. At the last Air Force invitational, Rogers took first in the weight throw with a mark of 21.08 meters. Rogers is also the reigning victor of the 2019 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships in the hammer throw and is currently No. 13 in the nation for the weight throw. Roger’s performance at the upcoming Air Force Invitational could propel the talented thrower even higher up in the rankings.

Other Bears with the potential to qualify include junior Ezinne Abba, who’s currently ranked 29th in the 60 meters and freshman Busola Akinduro, ranked 32nd in the triple jump.

Senior Joshua Johnson will display his talent for the first time this season at the second Air Force Invitational. On account of medical reasons, Johnson had to delay his start, but is expected to perform well at his first competition of 2021. Johnson was one of the two Bears who qualified for the NCAA Indoor Championships during the 2020 indoor season before it was canceled due to the pandemic.

“If Josh Johnson executes, he has a high chance of success,” Saatara said. “He’s a seasoned competitor so he knows what needs to be done to get there. It actually works out really well because he’s going to have a more pronounced peak at the end of the season.”

Cal’s return to Colorado Springs is full of promise and opportunity. The team’s hope is that more Bears will make it into the top 16 rankings and qualify for the NCAA Indoor Championships. But at the end of the day, the blue and gold have already made this season a successful one by persevering through challenging times and continuing to train in unprecedented circumstances.

Mia Horne covers track and field and cross country. Contact her at [email protected]