Success at Air Force Invitational predicts victories at Championships at the Peak

Photo of Krissy Smoot of Cal Track throwing hammer
Josh Kahen/Senior Staff

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As the indoor season nears its end and the NCAA Indoor Championships loom in the distance, the time has come for a time of reflection on the progress Cal track and field has made thus far. To first understand the milestones the team has reached and challenges it has overcome, it’s important to keep in mind several influential factors.

First: The Bears have been facing off against some of the toughest competition in the country, with far fewer opportunities to compete in person than other teams they’ve attended invitationals with. For example, Cal track and field will have had a total of three invitationals in preparation for the NCAA Indoor Championships, while the University of Colorado has competed in eight invitationals thus far.

Second: This year marks head coach Robyne Johnson’s second season with the Bears, counting the 2020 indoor season that was cut short before it even reached the NCAA Indoor Championships. Her time with the blue and gold has been one of uncertainty and instability, but Johnson has managed to hold the team together and help athletes reach new performance heights.

“We have really good team chemistry. Our head coach has done a great job of leading us through these very challenging times and it’s been quite a journey so far,” said assistant throws coach Mohamad Saatara. “As a whole, the whole track and field team is very motivated to prove our abilities.”

Third: Cal has traveled to Colorado Springs, Colorado, for the past two Air Force Invitationals. Colorado Springs sits at an elevation of 7,048 feet, while Berkeley, California has an elevation of 171 feet above sea level. This means the team has been gaining thousands of feet in elevation every time they travel to compete, with few opportunities to practice in this environment. This requires endurance and stamina, something the Bears have proven they have in spades this season.

The blue and gold have been inspirational in the way they’ve overcome unique pandemic-induced challenges this indoor season. With that being said, here are some of the most noteworthy results from the Air Force Invitational on Feb. 19.

Sophomore Christian Catlin placed first in the 60-meter sprint and the 200 meters. Setting a new personal record of 6.78 in the 60 meters, Catlin tied for fourth on the Cal all-time indoor records list. He also notched a career-best time of 21.99 in the 200 meters. This underclassman had already made waves this season with a second place finish in the 60 meters at the last Air Force Invitational and is sure to continue his success at the Championships at the Peak Invitational taking place from Feb. 25-27.

Senior Camryn Rogers placed first in the weight throw, which is a success no one was surprised by considering her status as the 2019 NCAA Division 1 Outdoor Championships victor in the hammer throw. Rogers is currently No. 12 on the NCAA Division 1 indoor qualifiers list and is predicted to attend the NCAA Indoor Championships. Rogers is an experienced thrower and motivates younger members of the throwing team to perform at the highest level.

“A seasoned competitor understands the objectives and what they need to get done much more clearly,” Saatara said. “It helps for younger members on the team to see that, because experience is passed on from the older generation to the younger generation.”

While Rogers brought home a victory for the women’s throwing team, seniors Joshua Johnson and Iffy Joyner and freshman Jeff Duensing brought home first, second and third place in the men’s shot put, respectively. This absolute sweep highlights the depth of the throwing team and the bright future they have in store going into the outdoor season.

In total, Cal had nine first-place finishes at this second Air Force Invitational. Among them were junior Ezinne Abba’s first place victory in the 60 meters, junior Sydney Reid’s first-place finish in the long jump and senior Deshae Wise’s wins in the 60-meter hurdles and the 200-meter sprint.

Having already attained much success in the indoor season to this point, the Bears will be giving their all at the upcoming Championships at the Peak at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. For many on the team, this invitational will be the last meet of the indoor season before a transition into outdoor. Luckily, the blue and gold are more acclimated to competing at such a high elevation and have the experience of two invitationals under their belts heading into it.

The factors that Cal has had to overcome this indoor season are the very same ones that have made the team stronger and Championships at the Peak is yet another opportunity for the Bears to find success.

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