February 27, 2008

Track and Field Season Preview

Feb. 27, 2008

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The Schedule
Meet No. 2
Saturday, March 1, 2008 at 10 a.m.
UCSB competes in the All-Cal Challenge
at Anteater Stadium, UC Irvine, Irvine, Calif.

Meet No. 3
Saturday, March 8, 2008 at 12:00 noon
UCSB competes at the Soka University Peace Invitational
at Soka University, Aliso Viejo, Calif.

This Week In Track & Field
The Gauchos will travel to UC Irvine this weekend to compete in the All-Cal Challenge, a battle between the UC schools that includes UCSB, UC Irvine, UC Davis, UC San Diego, and UC Riverside. Last season, both the men's and women's squads took home the titles, with the women capturing their fourth-straight All-Cal Cup and the men capturing their second-straight All-Cal Cup. Several members of the current team will be looking to defend their individual event titles from last season. Included in this group are Danielle Domenichelli in the 1500m, Alyssa Brown in the 800m, and Tim Aukshunas in the 3000m.

Rounding `Em Up
The first meet of the season went well for the Gauchos, with both the men's and women's squads winning the team competitions in the Gaucho Round-Up. The men faced teams from Claremont Mudd-Scrips and Westmont, and the women faced the same teams and an additional team from Pepperdine.The Gauchos combined to win 26 of the 36 events that were contested, even though some key members of the team did not compete. It was a good warm-up event for all the athletes who participated, and should help everyone make the transition from a training atmosphere to a competitive atmosphere.

Men's 2008 Season Preview
With an abundance of new talent and a group of proven veterans leading the way, 2008 is shaping up to be quite an intriguing year for the men's team. A Conference Champion and several Regional Qualifiers are included on this year's roster, and their experience and leadership should prove invaluable to the large group of incoming freshmen who represent the future of the team. For some of those freshmen, the future is now, as many of them will immediately have the opportunity to compete and make an early impression on the Conference.

Going the Distance
Always a force to be reckoned with, this year's Gaucho distance squad is composed of an even balance between upperclassmen and freshmen. Chris Ashley will lead the charge in his final season of an already successful career. He redshirted the 2007 cross country season to regain his fitness and focus on conditioning. He should easily meet the Regional qualifying standard in the 5000m, and will be looking to advance to the NCAA Championships. Fellow senior Tim Aukshunas will be the one to watch in the 5000m and the 10,000m after battling his way to the top of the Conference in 2007. He was 4th in the 10,000m in last season's Big West Championships, and he has the ability to reach the podium in several events this year.

Michael Powers qualified for Regionals in the steeplechase last season, and is hoping to build on that success with another apperance and an even better result. Junior Scott Smith is coming off a great cross country season and has a good shot at breaking the school record in the 1500m. He too qualified for Regionals in 2007, and he fully expects to do it again. An impressive young crew is lined up in the 800m, with junior transfer Salim Benmohamed joining freshmen Ryan Martin and Spencer Rotan to form a tandem of talented newcomers. All three of them are capable of scoring at Conference this season and should be key contributors down the road.

Three-Peat
Not enough can be said about Gaucho thrower Jeff Stewart, who has won back-to-back Conference titles in the shot put. This season, he has his goals set even higher. Winning a third straight Conference Championship, earning a trip to the NCAA Championships, and hitting a mark of over 60 feet in the shot are all on Stewart's to-do list, and he has every intention of completing all of those tasks. He was also just outside of scoring in the hammer last season, and has logged the training hours to emerge as a power in that event as well.

Matt Barkley will bolster the throws squad in the shot put, having already achieved the 5th-best mark in school history. Barkley and Stewart will also attempt to utilize their skills in the shot to improve their marks in the discus. Joining them will be freshman Daniel Erdman, an explosive athlete who will compete in all four throwing events. Michael Guerra will make his freshman debut throwing the javelin, along with Alex Umstead in the shot and discus. With only a few returners on the throws squad, these freshmen can expect to compete and earn valuable experience right from the start.

The Need for Speed
Max Bellissimo and Jason Newland are the top returnees for the sprinters, and both have scored in Conference and hold UCSB all-time marks. Bellissimo specializes in the 400m and is once again a threat to go All-Conference. He has his health back after dealing with illnesses that limited him to only four meets last season. Fellow sprinter Jason Newland should score in Conference in the 200m, and is constantly improving his times in the 100m and 400m as well.

No Hurdle is Too High
Elmer Guzman was a scorer at Conference in the 400m hurdles last season and is a threat to go All-Conference this year. The Regional qualifying mark is not out of the question either, and Guzman will have his mind set on eclipsing that time. Freshman Patrick Alami will also draw some attention in both hurdle races and the high jump, as will Nick deBeaubien in the decathlon.

Jump On In
The Gauchos have two key veterans returning in the vertical jumps, with David Hoff competing in the high jump and Brian Rother in the pole vault. Both are dedicated athletes who worked hard over the offseason. Hoff will be going for a podium finish at Conference as well as nabbing the Regional qualifying standard. The same holds true for Rother, who should be hitting the 16-foot mark this season and possibly challenging for the school record which currently stands at 16'7".

Women's 2008 Season Preview
This is a bit of a rebuilding year for the Gaucho women, though that assertion is a bit unfair given the unprecedented success that the program has acheived from 2003 to the present day. There is still some top-level talent on the squad, with an NCAA Qualifier and two Regional qualifiers returning. Several other returnees are poised to take over the regins, and the freshman will have plenty of opportunities to gain experience and show what they're made of.

Distance Memories
Even though Stephanie Rothstein and Megan Lewis have bid their respective farewells, the Gaucho distance crew is still looking dangerous. NCAA National qualifier Bethany Nickless headlines the list of returnees. Nickless has already qualified for the NCAA Championships in the steeplechase twice in her career, and this season her goal is to earn All-American accolades. She holds the school record in the steeple at 10:11.33, a mark that she set at last year's NCAA West Regionals. She is also the defending Big West Champion in the steeple and is the favorite to win it again this year.

Danielle Domenichelli is looking to build off of her strong 2007 season, where she made it all the way to Regionals in the 1500m. She will have her sights set on the winning the 1500m at Conference, and she also has what it takes to get to the NCAA Championships. Fellow junior Liza Hitchner is returning this season after missing most of 2007 with injuries, and she will have her eyes set on qualifying for Regionals. She specializes in the 5000m and the 10,000m and should etch her name into the Gaucho all-time marks list this season.

A young group of 800m runners will be led by sophomore Alyssa Brown, who currently holds the 9th-fastest tim in UCSB history. She qualified for Conference last season and should score high this year. Joining her in the 800m will be freshman Lindsay Brunner, who will strive to have an impact in her first year of competition. Breanne Strenkowski, the 2007 Big West Freshman of the Year in cross country, will be looking to translate that same success into the 5000m on the track.

Gaucho Throwdown
There are four events in the throws, and last season Kayla Smith, Ingrid Sutherland, and Jean Lightfoot competed in one event apiece; Smith and Lightfoot in the shot put, with Sutherland throwing the discus. This season, each of them will be competing in all four events. Their goal is to help the team as much as possible by racking up key points in each throwing event.

Smith is currently sitting in 3rd on the UCSB all-time list for the shot put and should place high at Conference. Sutherland has a best mark of 146'3" in the discus that she is looking to build on. Lightfoot is currently 8th on the all-time list in the shot and is rapidly improving.

The Accelerated Course
Youth defines this season's sprint squad, but the future looks promising for a speedy bunch of newcomers. The Gauchos will have a group of true sprinters this season, after going through most of 2007 without a stable competitor in the 100m and the 200m. Dominique Augustus and Sheneice Vargas are among the group of talented sprinters who will get their feet wet this season and improve down the road.

Making the Leap
Lauri Schakett and Diana Joyner are two fifth-year seniors who are eager to compete this year and finish their careers on a high note. Joyner redshirted the 2007 season and looks to score Conference points and set personal bests in the middle distances and 400m hurdles upon her return. Schakett is a threat to score high in the 400m hurdles at Conference. She also competes in the hepathlon and could score high in that, too.

Freshmen Amanda Lee and Barbara Nwaba had solid times in high school and have been training hard to adjust to the longer length of the 400m hurdle race. They both run the 100m hurdles as well, and will look to develop their skills this season.

Up and Over
The pole vault and high jump crews have been rapidly improving over the last few years, and this year they look ready to make an impression. Melanie Sonby made key adjustments to her technique during the offseason, which should help her to clear 12 feet in the pole vault on a consistent basis this year. In the high jump, Jane Doolittle and Christina Nowak are both close to the Regional qualifying standard, and will look to hit that mark early in the season Page Three

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