Santa Barbara, Calif. - Two Gaucho representatives are off to compete at the NCAA Division One Outdoor Track and Field Championships this week hosted by the University of Texas at Mike A. Myers Stadium. Senior Tyler Nelson will start things off Wednesday in the men's decathlon while fellow senior Hope Bender will begin Thursday in the women's long jump followed by the women's heptathlon starting Friday.
Bender has been steadily ramping up her already impressive athletic resume for her final year as a Gaucho, qualifying early on for the national championships with a 5940 point heptathlon score set at the Bryan Clay Invitational back in April, which still stands at No. 3 in the nation. Along with this, she won three individual titles at the Big West Conference Championships (heptathlon, long jump, 400m hurdles), set a new school record in the 400m hurdles (56.64), and qualified for a second event at the national championships thanks to an 11th place finish at the NCAA West Regional Prelims in the long jump.
Nelson has had one of the greatest returns to the track after sitting out all of 2018, culminating in a second Big West Conference title in the decathlon after winning the same event all the way back in 2016 as a sophomore. In the process, he was able to set a new personal best score of 7420 points to qualify for the national championships. He is currently ranked at No. 17 in the nation for the decathlon going into this meet.
Broadcast Information (Note: Schedule may change due to weather concerns.)
All broadcast times below are listed as Pacific Standard Time.
Tyler Nelson (Decathlon)
Decathlon 100m - 10:00 am
Decathlon Long Jump - 10:40 am
Decathlon Shot Put - 11:55 am
Decathlon High Jump - 1:10 pm
Decathlon 400m - 4:56 pm
Decathlon 100m Hurdles - 11:00 am
Decathlon Discus - 11:50 am
Decathlon Pole Vault - 1:00 pm
Decathlon Javelin - 3:30 pm
Decathlon 1500m - 7:26 pm
Hope Bender (Heptathlon and Long Jump)
Long Jump - 6:30 pm
Heptathlon 100m Hurdles - 12:30 pm
Heptathlon High Jump - 1:30 pm
Heptathlon Shot Put - 3:30 pm
Heptathlon 200m - 7:13 pm
Heptathlon Long Jump - 11:30 am
Heptathlon Javelin - 12:45 pm
Heptathlon 800m - 5:13 pm
Assistant Coach Thomas Poston was able to reach out to Hope and Tyler earlier this week by proposing a few interview questions for them heading into the championships.
Interview with Hope
I recall last year interviewing you making outdoors for the first time. Needless to say, qualifying for a second time feels quite different, but could you still describe how your mindset may have changed since then leading up to another appearance at the NCAA Championships? For one you actually have two events (technically eight in a sense) you'll be competing in this upcoming meet.
Bender: I really don't know how much my mindset has changed [since last year.] I'm still just trying to go in focused, clear-minded, and taking it one event at a time. Adding an individual event to the mix is different, but I think if anything it'll give me a sneak peek of what to expect from the facilities, the crowd, the officials, etc. going into the heptathlon.
You've established quite a legacy at UCSB. It feels as if each time we all look at your accomplishments, they've steadily topped the previous year without fail, and you're always willing to work on the next step after each benchmark. Last year you gave a lot of credit to your parents in regards to your own work ethic. Has anything been added to your arsenal of motivation since then?
Bender: It's funny. Last year, and even indoors [this year], I went into the championships with this sense of unfinished business driving me, but this meet feels different - sure I still have the heptathlon school record in my sights which I'm gunning for, but I don't have that same unsettled feeling. Going into this meet, I'm confident that no matter the outcome, I will walk out of my last meet as a Gaucho knowing that I did absolutely everything I could to be the best athlete I could be. So if anything has been added to my arsenal of motivation, it's freedom.
I'd like to address your most notable improvement from this year being the long jump. In less than a year you've gone from a 5.78m (18' 11.75") horizontal jumper to a 6.29m (20' 7.75") Big West Conference Champion. Any insight on that change? It's interestingly similar to the jump you made last year in the 100m hurdles (13.74 to 13.33), though I would say this event transformation was perhaps more gradual throughout the season.
Bender: The long jump this year was as big of a surprise to myself as it was to everyone else. I just started bringing a lot more speed down the runway, lengthened my approach out an extra step, and got more comfortable in the air. But I think the extra speed and being strong enough to convert that speed into horizontal distance was the biggest thing.
What's the goal for the big show this year? You made First Team All-American Status at the Indoor Championships (sixth overall), but your national standing has changed a bit since then as you're ranked third in the nation going into the championships. Could you be eyeing for more? And how will the individual long jump come into play, considering it's thankfully on a separate day from the heptathlon?
I'm pretty sure I give you the same answer to this question every time, but I don't want to limit myself to a place or a number. This is it and I'm going to give it everything I have for two days and check the score at the end and see where it puts me. I think the long jump will serve as a really high energy pre-meet; I mean we wouldn't have even competed in it at regionals had it not been scheduled the day before [the heptathlon]!
Lastly, the heat will be a huge factor at this year's championships in Austin. With your astute attention to detail I'm guessing you've already planned for it?
Bender: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
Interview With Tyler
It's been quite a journey for you this past year, Tyler. This is your first time qualifying for the NCAA Outdoor Championships, fittingly enough in your final year as a Gaucho. I'd assume you're sorting through quite a number of emotions considering you were sidelined all of last year. What're your initial feelings on being an NCAA qualifier in the decathlon?
Nelson: It's amazing. Qualifying for the NCAAs has been one of my main goals since freshman year and I couldn't be happier to finally achieve it.
Time and time again you've given a huge amount of credit to Coach Horn, the multis group, and a lot of your teammates for all the success you've had in 2019. Would it be fitting to say you're heavily motivated extrinsically? Or is there an intrinsic drive that goes along with your external support group that I've yet to hear you discuss?
Nelson: Although I've given my teammates and coaches a lot of credit for my success this year, there is an internal drive that pushes me harder than anything. The reason I came back this year was because I know I have so much more left in the tank/to improve on and I want to prove that to myself.
Here's a fairly interesting statistic I have on you. At the Big West Conference Championships, you didn't set a single individual event best during the decathlon, but you were still able to set a total score best of 7420 points to qualify you for the NCAA Championships. That leaves quite a bit to the imagination going into the national meet, considering your best total doesn't even encompass your best marks. Does that fuel you in any sort of way knowing you're possibly capable of even more?
Nelson: This sort of builds off of my last response, but yes. This is a huge motivator for me as I know I'm capable of a much larger score. I just need to put it all together.
What's the goal for nationals? You come into the meet ranked 17th in the nation, but I'm sure you're looking for much more.
Nelson: My goal for nationals is the school record and First Team All-American (the school record is 7631 points set by Derek Masterson back in 2013).
The heat's gonna be rough in Austin. There's quite a gap in between the initial events and the final events for both days of competition (over three hours between the high jump and 400m on day one and four hours between the javelin and the 1500m on day two), much more than you're used to I'm sure so perhaps that may help your case, but is there anything else you have prepared for the weather?
Nelson: Luckily the heat hasn't been too terrible out here so far and it's scheduled to rain tomorrow, but I will be in the shade at all times and you will probably find me drinking pedialyte any time I'm not running.