Sacramento, Calif. - After a well drawn out three days of competition at the NCAA West Regional Meet in Hornet Stadium, the UC Santa Barbara Track and Field team would add another representative to their list of competitive attendees to the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene as senior Jenna Hinkle would qualify for the second year in a row in the 1500m. The quality of the middle distance fields were well apparent this year, and combined with still wind conditions and 60 degree temperatures, the races definitely turned up the heat with Hinkle having to run a school record just to qualify for the national meet again.
A Second Bid at Nationals
Slated in the first heat, the race plan for the senior was apparent: stay within the top five at all costs to receive an automatic qualifying spot, and with an opening first 400m of 68 seconds, it was not going to be easy. Initially strung out from the fast start, the pack would eventually bunch up slightly as the pace lagged over the course of the second lap, but Oregon's Jessica Hull would blow the race wide open just before 750 meters, putting up a 15 meter gap on the field in just a split moment.
The chase was on with Hull out in front with two other runners a couple lengths back, and just a second off that pack would be Hinkle. Thanks to Hull's rabbiting, from 800m to 1200m Jenna would end up splitting a blistering third lap in 64 seconds just to stay within earshot of the three ahead of her, and with 200m to go it looked as if she would secure an automatic qualifying spot. 150m to go however, Portland's Taryn Rawlings would successfully pass on the inside to close on that lead group. And 100m to go, Oklahoma State's Molly Sughroue would pull even with the Gaucho, putting her automatic qualifier in danger.
The Oklahoma State cowboy would sneak past Hinkle with just 30m to go, meaning Hinkle would finish outside the automatic qualifiers in sixth, but in the process the senior would end up breaking her own school record in the 1500m by over a second with a time of 4:15.39. Thanks to the fast pace however, even without the automatic qualifying spot Hinkle would take the first on-time qualifier to finish 11th overall, securing her trip to Eugene.
"Jenna picked a time to have her best race of the season," commented Distance Coach Darius Terry. "Not only did she secure her second consecutive NCAA bid in the 1500m, she took an additional second off her own school record. I'm extremely proud of the way she competed, and we're looking forward to seeing what she can do in Eugene."
Freshman Chase Tarr took to the javelin competition in the morning in flight one where he would finish 34th overall with a throw of 59.82m (196' 3"), his second farthest throw as a Gaucho. With two cleans throws past 57 meters, the young javelin thrower would beat his pre-meet 37th place seed by three spots, getting well deserved exposure to the elevated level and cutthroat three throw format of regional competition.
Junior Hope Bender would finally close out her busy racing week with one last shot at a second national berth in the 100m hurdles after already qualifying for nationals in the heptathlon. She would take off well in the final heat, but a hard bump on the eighth hurdle with her left knee would disrupt her momentum just enough to miss those crucial fractions of a second need to move on and she would end up sixth in her heat in 13.51. Despite this, she still ran faster than the former school record of 13.59 again, which she tied earlier in the year. Along with her 13.33 clocking in the preliminary round the day before, Bender had run two times under the previous record in less than 48 hours.
"This weekend was a huge confidence booster for Hope," remarked Assistant Coach Gray Horn. "We're carrying this momentum onto the big stage where I know she'll be ready to surprise everyone yet again.
With Regionals done, Hope Bender and Jenna Hinkle will be accompanying each other to Eugene as the two Gaucho representatives at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships set to take place in two weeks time starting June 6th.