May 25, 2006
The NCAA Regional Championships, the first round of the Track & Field Championships begin this Friday afternoon with most prelims, continuing into Saturday with finals in most events. One of four nation-wide regions, the West Regional Championship will take place at BYU in Provo, UT. For the Gaucho Men, nine will make the trip across the Western United States looking to qualify for the NCAA National Championships beginning in two weeks at CSU Sacramento.
In order to qualify to Nationals, the athletes must do one of two things. First, and the easiest route to Sacramento, one may finish in the top five in their event within their respective region. Doing so will earn them an automatic qualifying spot to NCAA's. Secondly, if one finishes in the next seven spots or 6th-12th place they will be put in an at-large pool with all of the Regions' 6th-12th place finishers. From the at-large pool, the top six to nine in each event based on their 2006 season best marks will then be selected to the Championships. Depending on a particular strength of an event, they will choose anywhere from six to nine of them until the total NCAA allowable field size is filled, giving each event anywhere from twenty-six to twenty-nine athletes.
For the Gauchos, we begin with the Track events where Chris Ashley (So.) and Mike Chavez (Jr.) will represent UCSB respectively in the 5,000m and 3,000m steeplechase events. Ashley set a thirty second life-time best earlier in the season at the Stanford Invitational when he won his competitive heat in a time of 14:03.65, dipping under the Regional qualifying mark of 14:10. He travels to BYU as the '06 Big West leader in the event and All-Conference finisher at 5k after his 1500m-5k double; he is also ranked 6th in the West and 30th overall. Similar to Megan Lewis' situation on the Women's side, he will look to grab one of the automatic qualifying spots, but has a shot at an at-large berth if he finishes in the top twelve.
With the NCAA altitude conversion, the competitors will be granted 20.62 seconds in the 5,000m. The Men's race may prove to be quite unpredictable with three athletes quite a ways ahead of the field in the 13:50 range and the next thirteen between 14:00 and 14:09.99. Ashley has shown speed and guts at 1500m and has displayed a large kick in the final stages of 5,000m races as he did back at Stanford in March. Most in the field obtained their mark by latching onto a pack, Ashley may surprise some as he has been doing since his Big West Cross Country Championship title in the fall, proving his will to win.
In the Steeplechase, a newcomer to the event for the Gauchos, Chavez dipped under the 9:00 barrier at the Cal Poly SLO-UCSB Dual, winning the race easily. He then took Mustang, Luke Llamas, ranked 13th in the country with an 8:45 best in the steeplechase to the wire at the Big West Championships, coming up just short of the win. Chavez will get another chance on Saturday as he goes in ranked 9th and 40th in the country. Llamas currently stands as the 5th ranked athlete in the West holding onto the final automatic qualifying spot. It may take approximately an 8:50 to move on at-large if Chavez finishes outside the top five. The NCAA will take off 12.32 seconds for altitude to their final time.
Moving onto the field events, Kent Centers (Jr.) and Jacob Maus (So.) are declared in the High Jump competition for the Gauchos. Centers is making his second appearance at a West Regional Championship much in the same fashion that he achieved the feat back in 2003. As a Freshman, Centers, standing all of 5-10, came into the Big West Championships and cleared a personal best 6-11 to qualify for the Regional Championships and finish an All-Conference 2nd place. In '06, back on the same track his '03 success was achieved, Cal St. Northridge, he entered the meet with a seasonal best of 6-08.75 which he cleared the weekend before in the decathlon competition. On weekend number two for Centers, he got up and cleared 6-10.75 on his first attempt getting the Regional mark and finished an All-Conference 2nd place again. He goes in ranked tied for 6th with thirteen others at 6-10.75.
One of the other thirteen at 6-10.75 is teammate Maus. Only a sophomore, Maus has been consistent over 6-08.75 all year long. However, it was at the Cal Poly SLO-UCSB Dual meet that he cleared a career best and Regional qualifying mark to win the event and help the Gauchos to their first team title against the Mustangs. Both Centers and Maus will have to make first attempt clearances to be in the running for the top five spots and look to clear 7-01 for an at-large spot.
The Shot Put was one of the Gauchos main events all year as a young group dominated the ring. A trio of sophomores is making the trip to the West Regional Championships vying for those National Championship spots. One of the deeper fields in the West, twenty three Men will go out at in what should be one of the more exciting events of the weekend. Leading the Gauchos will be Jeff Stewart who had a break through performance two weeks ago at the Big West Championships. He tossed the Shot 56-05.25 to win the Big West title for the Gauchos and is currently tied for 15th with one of the Big West competitors he outdistanced two weekends ago.
Scott Anderson is making his second trip to the Regional Championships after qualifying as a Freshman in '05. Joining him and Stewart is also Matt Barkley who went big back in March at the USC Trojan Invitational. Anderson and Barkley lie within half an inch of each other with marks of 58-08.5 and 58-09, good 20th and 21st in the West respectively. Looking to get into the top twelve, they will need a toss near sixty feet to break into the top thirty, nationally and qualify for the National Championshps.
In the Hammer Throw, Reif Lawson (So.) makes his first appearance to the Regional Championships. At the Cal Poly SLO-UCSB Dual he launched a 189-01 foot toss, grabbing a six foot personal best, winning the event. Lawson is currently ranked 15th out twenty-four competitors. Last year, Eugene Bradley went into the meet ranked 11th and walked out 6th just missing the National Championships. After a sub-par Big West Championships, Lawson will look to rebound and play spoiler for some. Looking at the at-large pool, the 27th ranked mark in the NCAA currently is at 204-07.
On the Javelin runway, Gabe Mann (Sr.) enters Regionals for the second year in a row, this time ranked 12th out twenty-five in the West and 27th in the country. A deep West in this event will make for an electrifying competition. Mann set a season best 220-01, although he hit a pre-season personal best mark of 222-02. Nursing some injuries throughout April he has not been in top form, however he managed to tough out a second place finish at the Big West Championships two weekends ago. In '05, he slumped at the Big West Championships but regained his form in Oregon at the West Regional Championships setting a eight foot personal best to finish seventh. Unlike the distance runners, the throwers may get a couple extra inches from the thinner air. A top twelve finish could give him an at-large berth to nationals, but in this West it will not come easy, especially as Mann represents what may be the last at-large qualifying spot to Nationals.
The NCAA West Regional Championships begin on Friday at 11am with the field events and 2pm with the track events. They will continue with most of the finals on Saturday starting at 10am in the field and 1:30pm on the track.