Feb. 27, 2009
After sending two athletes to the NCAA Championships last season, the Gaucho men are poised to add to the list and to begin making a new impression on the Big West Conference. The team should be ready to send more athletes to Regionals than they did last year, and it appears that the process is well underway towards forming a group that can score a ton of points at Conference.
This year's distance squad will be led by Scott Smith, a national-caliber runner in the 1500m who can also run the longer distances.
Smith redshirted the 2008 season and will return hungry for a trip to the NCAA Championships. He ran an unattached 3:44 last summer, and should advance to Nationals if he runs in that range at Regionals. UCSB's school record in the 1500m is 3:43.80, so Smith has a legitimate shot at breaking that as well.
Focusing on the longer distances will be Julian deRubira and Waleed Totari. deRubira has the talent to make Regionals in two events - the steeplechase and the 5000 meters. Last season he ran both events at Conference, taking fourth in the steeple and sixth in the 5k. He improved his steeplechase time to 9:13.41 and will be looking to lower that down to the Regional qualifying standard of 9:07.
Totari's efforts will likely fall on the 10,000 meters, where he should be a top contender in the Big West Conference. In 2006 he was a Conference scorer in the 10k, coming across in 31:20.52 to take sixth place. He's in good shape going into this season and will be a threat to score in both the 5k and 10k.
"Julian and Waleed have been looking really solid in workouts," said Assistant Coach Avery Blackwell. "We've been doing massive tempo runs and they're both looking smooth."
The men will have three returners in the 800 meters this season. The group includes Salim Benmohamed, who took third in the Conference Championships last season at 1:52.65. Joining him will be Jeff Campbell, who returns after a redshirt season, and Ryan Martin, who competed last year but was granted a medical redshirt after picking up an injury midseason. Campbell sits 10th all-time at UCSB with a personal best of 1:51.60, and Martin was posting times in the low 1:52 range before his injury. He also ran a few 400 meter races and was clocking in the high 48s.
A strong corps of freshman runners are also waiting in the wings. Though it's difficult to predict how freshmen will perform in their first season, the coaches are optimistic that they will see a few athletes start strongly.
"We have a lot of new guys, and I think some are going to rise up," said Blackwell. "It's hard to know what will happen, but I'll predict that something noteworthy is gonna happen."
In the throws, Scott Anderson is the school record-holder in the shot put, having thrown 58-2. He is a threat to win the Conference Title this season, and should be a strong competitor at Regionals. He also has a chance at advancing to Regionals in the discus.
Joining Anderson in the shot ring will be Hector Serrano, who took fourth at Conference last season. He has been training hard over the offseason and is ready to take the next step towards Regionals.
Other throwers include Michael Guerra in the javelin, who barely missed the 200 foot mark last season. Alex Umstead has improved steadily since his arrival and will be looking to make the jump to Regionals in the shot put.
The Gauchos have improved tremendously in the pole vault over the offseason, spearheaded by the acquisition of Scott Finley. Finley attended the University of Washington and jumped 16-10.75 his freshman season.
"He's an immediate boost to our program," remarked vault coach Keith Baker. "He's a guy who's been there; he's jumped high already and he knows what it takes to clear 17 feet."
Other pole vaulters to watch include Mike O'Sullivan, who jumped close to 15 feet last year and has been hitting 16 feet going into this season.
Another area where the team is making strides is in the decathlon, spearheaded by some outstanding talent in the high jump and pole vault. Jacob Maus and David Hoff are the group's best high jumpers, with Hoff's personal best around 6-9 and Maus's at 7-0. The group also includes Derek Masterson, a pole vaulter who has cleared 16-2 and possesses tremendous strength.
"We've got a big training group of seven guys, and the success of a decathlon training group correlates very strongly with the size of the group," noted Baker. "We're starting to become cohesive. We've got a bunch of guys with different strengths helping each other out."
The men's sprinters will be lead by a duo of seniors. Jason Newland has been a 100m - 200m runner for the past three seasons and will continue to run those events, but he will also look to improve in the 400m this season.
"He's got great speed, and if he can translate that into some fitness I think he could reach a high top end in the 400 meters," said sprints coach Josh Priester.
Joining Newland will be Max Bellissimo, who redshirted last season. Bellissimo is 10th on the UCSB all-time list in the 400m at 48.07, and will strive to keep hitting those times and to rack up some points at Conference.
The men's hurdles have a few returnees, including Alvin Go in the 400m hurdles and Drew Johnston in the 110 highs. Go should run a good 400m hurdles this year, and he could be joined by freshman Sean Schuster, who has been looking fit and strong in training.
Johnston has made good progress in the 110 highs over the offseason and should have a better season this year. He'll be joined by freshman Mike Powers, one of the top high school hurdlers in the state last season. Powers will also compete in the decathlon.
The Gauchos compete this Saturday, Feb. 28, at the All-Cal Challenge at UC Irvine. The All-Cal Cup will be awarded to the winning team of the meet between UCSB, UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Riverside.
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