Bears seek to change culture in Big Meet across the Bay

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The Cal men's track and field team is seeking to prevent its losing streak against Stanford from extending to five. Meanwhile, the women's squad is out to prove that last year's win wasn't a fluke.

Tomorrow's Big Meet, this year held in Stanford, Calif., is the 117th showdown for the men and the 32nd contest between the women.

"The last 10 years it's been Stanford on both sides," said coach Tony Sandoval, who will be attending his 29th Big Meet tomorrow.

Almost the last 10 years, but not quite. Before last year's 84-79 win, the Bears' women's team dropped nine straight against the Cardinal. Last year's loss for the men - their fourth straight - had a wider margin: 24 (93.5-69.5).

Despite their track record against Stanford, the Bears remain optimistic.

"I feel like we're getting closer," said Steve Sodaro, who broke a 25-year-old Big Meet record in the 3000m steeplechase last year. "It used to kind of just be a laughing stock, they'd always mess around with us, but their years of domination are coming to an end pretty soon."

The Big Meet will give a lot of athletes who aren't Pac-10 scorers or NCAA qualifiers the opportunity to make a major contribution.

"Your top people are going to do what they're going to do, what ends up happening is the second and third places make the difference," Sandoval said. "That's why it's such an emotional meet. It really is a team effort."

Each team is assigned three, two or one points for each first, second and third place finish, respectively. The 4x100m and 4x400m events, however, are winner-take-all with five points for the winning team and none for second place.

"Anything can happen," Sodaro said. "There are a lot of ups and downs in the meet, all of a sudden you'll be winning and then two events go by and you're tied again."

This has truly been the case in past contests. Last year's 84-79 win for the women was so close that if the Cardinal won one relay, the outcome would have favored Stanford.

One race can indeed make the difference, highlighting the intensity of the Bay Area rivalry. This rarity of a dual meet in collegiate track and field, therefore, is even more special.

Tomorrow, that race could be Sodaro's 3000m steeplechase. The senior, who finished in 8:48.32 to break the record, has a microcosmic rivalry with Stanford's JT Sullivan.

It started two Big Meets ago when Sodaro beat Sullivan.

"Ever since then, it's been like a personal record rivalry," Sodaro said, who was first of the two to break the nine-minute mark as well as the 8:50 milestone. "Now, we're seeing who can break 8:40 first."

Sullivan competed in each one of Sodaro's 3000m steeplechases last year and tomorrow's showdown is the first of five times that the rivals may face off this season. This Big Meet will be the last for both athletes.


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

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