Final countdown: Bears ready for Pac-12 championships

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With three invitationals remaining in the outdoor season, Cal track and field has nothing left to lose. The three remaining meets — the Pac-12 championships, NCAA West Regionals and the NCAA Outdoor Championships — are opportunities for the Bears to showcase the fruits of their spring training.

Any level of accomplishment this season would knock the last year out of the park, barring any pandemic-related cancellations. The idea that Cal has a postseason to speak of is one to be celebrated.

Senior Josh Johnson, who is ranked No. 10 in the nation in the shot put event, relishes this year’s postseason prospects. The progress he’s made in his time with Cal is astounding — starting with his very first mark of 16.89 meters in the shot put, he’s moved to a current career-best of 19.88 meters.

Johnson was set to compete at the NCAA Indoor Championships last March right before they were canceled. Through his success this season, he’s been able to make up for lost time.

“Unfortunately I didn’t get to see what would have happened last season,” Johnson said. “As far as this year, I’m just happy to be out here during a pandemic and grateful we can still compete and throw.”

The Pac-12 championships will take place at the Cromwell Field and Loker Track in Los Angeles, California, May 14-16. Over the course of three-day competition, the blue and gold will compete against top athletes from around the country.

In previous invitationals this season the Bears have had the chance to test their abilities against other Pac-12 teams, including California rivals Stanford, USC and UCLA. At the most recent invitational, Cal’s women beat Stanford while the men came up short — a potential indicator of how the Pac-12 championships could play out.

Cal has been building up to the final three invitationals since the start of the outdoor season. Evidently, the Bears have found their rhythm in training, just before the season crescendos.

“I’ve been focusing on rhythm and just throwing,” Johnson said. “There have been no drastic changes; I’m just sticking to the program.”

Cal boasts competitive throwers, with several nationally ranked athletes heading into the Pac-12 championships.

Reigning 2019 NCAA Outdoor Champion, senior Camryn Rogers is still No. 1 in the hammer throw, with her latest personal record of 73.09 meters from the West Coast Classic. Based on his career-best mark of 58.96 meters from the Big Meet, Senior Iffy Joyner is ranked No. 11 in the discus event. Sophomore Anna Purchase currently sits at No. 12 in the hammer throw, rounding out a strong and talented throwing squad on the men’s and women’s teams.

For Johnson, climbing the rankings is a major goal for Pac-12 championships.

“Hopefully my ranking gets higher in these coming weeks; all the people ahead of me and around me are great competitors,” Johnson said.

Cal’s newcomers have also found success. Sophomore Asha Fletcher competed at her very first collegiate meet Feb. 19, and since then has had an outstanding first season with the Bears. Ranked No. 15 in the triple jump, Fletcher has earned a first place finish in Cal’s last three meets.

It’s the final countdown: three invitationals left and three to go before the 2021 season goes down in the history books as the year that Cal bounced back from a season filled with pandemic-related challenges and cancellations. The Bears have managed to jump over countless hurdles (both figuratively and literally) and have proven that 2020 was only a detour en route to success.

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