Santa Barbara, Calif. - Championship season has officially begun for UC Santa Barbara Track and Field as they will be tasked to host the 2019 edition of the Big West Conference Championships over the course of the next two weeks, taking place at recently renovated Pauley Track and Field Facility. The first portion of the meet, the Big West Conference Multis, will begin Friday, May 3rd at 12:00 pm starting with the decathlon men's 100 and will continue throughout the course of the afternoon/evening. The women's heptathlon program will begin that same day at 12:30 pm with the 100m hurdles. The second day of competition will begin Saturday May 4th at the same time, 12:00 pm, with the men's 110m hurdles, while the women's long jump will begin at 12:30 pm.
There will be free admission for the Multi-Events portion of the conference championship program.
The closest parking structure to the Pauley Track will be lot 30 across from the Lacrosse Field and Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. More parking is available at lot 18 across from the Recreational Center along with lot 27 by the Thunderdome. A map of the UCSB Campus will be provided here for more information. Friday parking will follow weekday pricing at $8 for an all day pass while Saturday parking will be priced at $4.
From the 101 North Freeway, take the exit onto 217 West towards SB Airport and UCSB. Continue onto the 217 West until you pass Henley Gate. Turn right at the roundabout towards Mesa Road and continue all the way to Stadium Road. Turn left onto Stadium Road and the track will be right next to Lot 30.
From the 101 South Freeway, take exit 108 towards Storke and Glen Annie Road. Take a right onto Storke Road and continue all the way to El Colegio Road. From there, take a left onto El Colegio Road and then turn left onto Stadium Road.
Scoring for the multis will follow the traditional format of the top-eight placings with point values going 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 which will be factored into the team totals for next weekend's main program.
The Gauchos will have seven total representatives, five men and two women, competing in the decathlon and heptathlon for this upcoming weekend. The group includes two conference champions, seniors Hope Bender and Tyler Nelson, as well as two conference scorers from 2018, senior Aaron Cheek and sophomore Sam Pica.
Hope Bender comes into this meet with perhaps one of the most decorated resumes for a Gaucho multi-event athlete as of recent, boasting NCAA First-Team All American honors from a 2019 NCAA Indoors sixth place finish in the pentathlon, three NCAA Championship appearances (two indoors, one outdoor), two Big West Conference titles in the 400m hurdles, and one Big West Conference title in the heptathlon. She currently stands as the conference leader in the heptathlon at 5940 points, a mere 46 off the UCSB school record set by alumni and 2016 US Olympian Barbara Nwaba back in 2012.
The current Big West Conference rankings pin the senior as the favorite to defend her 2018 heptathlon title, but Bender does not come into this meet void of opposition. UC Davis senior Erin Beattie poses the biggest threat to the title thanks to her performance at the 2019 NCAA Indoor Championships in the pentathlon where she finished fourth place, two spots ahead of Bender on that occasion. Beattie also comes into this meet as the next highest placing returner from the 2018 conference championships as she finished just over 100 points behind Bender at that meet. Bender has since bested Beattie in their last encounter at the Bryan Clay Invitational where she placed third overall in 5940 points over Beattie's 5671, so it'll be a must see event to see who takes the conference title for 2019.
Tyler Nelson has had quite the journey back for his final season as a Gaucho decathlete. After sitting out all of 2018, he has set a new personal best in the decathlon at 7336 points and has slowly been lowering his individual event marks this season as he closes in on his shot at a second conference title, having won all the way back in 2016 along with a second place finish in 2017. Though Nelson has an excellent chance of claiming the victory, he could be facing one the strongest Big West decathlon fields yet as this year's field includes Long Beach State's Herman Day, the current conference leader at 7410 points, and UC Davis' Kyle Clancy, the returning decathlon champion from 2018. Nelson is all too familiar with the senior from Long Beach as he barely squeezed by Day back in 2016 to win the conference decathlon title by just 22 points, 7220 to 7198. If Day brings his A game like he did three years ago, it could come down the final event to determine the conference champion. With Clancy, he may have a lower total at 7181 points in comparison to Day and Nelson, but it must be noted that along with his multi-event accolades, he is also a three time conference champion in the high jump, so his resume speaks for itself when it comes to performing under pressure.
Sophomore Samuel Pica has made leaps and bounds since his seventh place conference finish back in 2018 as a freshman. Adding a whopping 565 points to his decathlon score this year for a current 7093 point total (currently standing at No. 4 on the UCSB All-Time List), Pica's upswing has yet to be halted since stepping onto the track this year, and the young Gaucho could be poised to sneak onto the podium this weekend if all goes to plan. Aside from the big three ahead of him, he could face some retaliation from last year's third place conference finisher in Long Beach State's John Broadhead, who likely doesn't want to lose to an underclassman in his senior year.
Senior Aaron Cheek goes into this meet with a bit of reservation this year, quietly working on his craft leading up to the conference championships. He is the returning eighth place finisher from last year's conference meet, and currently sits at ninth in the conference rankings with a score of 6168 points he set back at the Westmont Collegiate Classic in late March. The senior has yet to post anything stellar up until this point, but he was able to sneak into the final scoring position last year in the final event of the decathlon, the 1500m, so it would be wise to not count him out until all the scores are tallied at the end of the competition.
Senior Puck DeRoos finished tenth at last year's heptathlon just 99 points off a scoring position after focusing on just the high jump. With more exposure to various events during this year's build up, she could pull off a top eight finish if she plays her cards right.
Lastly, we have two newcomers in junior transfer Zachary Wilson and true freshman Peter Michiels. With respective scores of 6087 and 5787 this year from the Westmont Collegiate Classic, their time as conference scorers may be further on in the future as they sit 11th and 13th on the current conference rankings. However, with over ten events to cover in the course of two days, anything can happen in the decathlon. One clutch performance and a little luck on home soil can change everything.