Small Track Team Opens Up Season in New Mexico

Photo: Decathlete Mike Morrison placed second at NCAAs last year, leading the Bears to their highest point tally since 2001. Cal will ease into the 2011 campaign this weekend.
Catherine Shyu/File
Decathlete Mike Morrison placed second at NCAAs last year, leading the Bears to their highest point tally since 2001. Cal will ease into the 2011 campaign this weekend.

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The track season is like a marathon: pacing is important so you don't burn out early.

As a result, the Cal track and field team will abstain from anything even remotely resembling a marathon in the season opening Cherry and Silver Invitational in Albuquerque, N.M.

The Cherry and Silver will leap into action with the men's and women's long jump and women's weight throw today at 5 p.m., but the Bears will participate only in events no longer than 800m and field events. Additionally, only 34 of over 100 Cal athletes will make the trek to the Albuquerque Convention Center showdown.

Keeping the distance runners out of the competition eases them into the season slowly and helps prevent overexertion and injuries. The athletes' fitness levels are not yet where they will be at the end of the season.

"What we're looking for this weekend is if we can get some people to make the minimum qualifying time for the NCAAs," coach Tony Sandoval said. "And we certainly want them to make the qualifying mark for the indoor championships at the end of March."

While it is possible to qualify for the NCAAs with times and marks from any meet, strategically it makes more sense to do so when the season is winding down so that peak performance only has to be reached once.

Relatively few Cal athletes are travelling because this isn't a major competition, but it has a whole different meaning for the participating freshmen.

A disproportionate 11 of the 34 competitors will be freshmen. The season's first meet will be instrumental in building their confidence and getting them up to speed with the rest of the team.

Among the newcomer standouts is true freshman Chase Wheeler of De La Salle High. He won the 2009 California state championship in the long jump with a distance of 25-2.25.

Getting out to a solid start sets the tone for the season not only for the freshmen, though. The Bears have to build towards a strong finish to meet the high standards set by both themselves and their coaches.

"Our expectations are that we are in the top 20 and hopefully the top 10 every year, whether it be the indoor or outdoor season, for both the men and women," Sandoval said.

A total of 12 schools will participate, including New Mexico, Stanford, UNLV and Arizona State.

The Lobos accrued 27 top three finishes in their season opener last week, also dominating the top five final spots in the women's pole vault.

Present for the Cardinal will be pole vaulter Katerina Stefanidi who set the school record in the event and junior All-American hurdler Amaechi Morton. In last week's season opener, Stefanidi set the school record and Morton won the 60m hurdles with the second fastest all-time at Stanford.

Events will resume Saturday morning at 10 a.m. on the field and 11 a.m. on the track.


Byron Atashian covers track and field. Contact him at [email protected]

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