Santa Barbara, Calif. - Two Gauchos will be off to Eugene as the athletic representatives for UC Santa Barbara Track and Field at the 2018 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships set to take place in Eugene, Oregon. The meet take place June 6th through June 10th once again at Historic Hayward Field, host site of the last six NCAA Outdoor Championships and the last one before the stadium is set for reconstruction beginning in late June.
Senior Jenna Hinkle will be leading the charge Thursday in the women's 1500m semifinal coming fresh off a school record (4:15.39) at the NCAA West Regional Meet back on May 26th to qualify for the national meet a second time, the first Gaucho to ever do so in the 1500m in school history.
Junior Hope Bender will be set to go after Hinkle in the women's heptathlon which will take place Friday and continue on into Saturday. Hope is coming off a dream season with accolades dating all the way back to February with her 5th place finish in the pentathlon at US Indoor Nationals, with her most recent accomplishment being her 100m hurdles school record (13.33) she set at the NCAA West Regional Meet.
Women's 1500m (Jenna Hinkle)
Thursday 4:16 pm (ESPN 2)
Saturday 3:41 pm (ESPN)
Women's Heptathlon (Hope Bender)
Friday 12:30 pm (ESPN 3)
Saturday 5:13 pm (ESPN)
Assistant Coach Thomas Poston was able to sit down with these two athletes earlier this week to get their thoughts and expectations heading into the championships.
Interview with Hope
This is your first time qualifying for the NCAA Outdoor meet. You're coming off quite a colorful season to say the least. How're you taking it all in right now?
Bender: The whole season in itself has been a whirlwind of excitement, but to officially be going to [NCAA] Outdoors has been something I've only dreamed about up until this point, so to call it a dream come true would be most accurate.
You've been 5th at US Indoors, 12th at NCAA Indoors, won 2 more conference titles, and set 2 new school records. You've been on quite a tear. Whenever I talk to Coach Horn, he's always willing to describe you as someone who's always willing to push to that next level. What would you attribute that to?
Bender: I'd think it was definitely something that started when I was really young looking at my parents' work ethic. They always gave one hundred percent at whatever they did and never let anything hold them back. Through my own athletics, I think in college and this past year specifically, each day at practice presents a new challenge, and when challenges come up in meets it's never anything new.
You were at Regionals recently for the 100m hurdles and 400m hurdles and you ended up breaking the school record for the 100m hurdles during the preliminaries. Has that changed your perspective in any way at all? About what you're capable of? About the possibilities for this weekend?
Bender: I'd definitely say that was one of the most surprising performances of the year that I had just because it was such a big jump [from my previous best]. In terms of going into nationals, it's quite the confidence booster. I spoke to Cody (former UCSB throws/jumps/multis coach) after the meet and he just said to me that the game just changed. It's another level up and just a whole new set of points [for the heptathlon] waiting to be had.
Goals for Nationals? I remember the goal for indoors was 1st Team All-American. Has the agenda stayed the same since then?
Bender: Yeah definitely. 1st Team All-American, getting on that podium, it's a huge goal, but the main objective is just to show up, compete, and take it one event at a time. If I take it one a time, aim for PRs in each event, then I have a complete heptathlon. I'm just gonna break it down and make it simple. First be a hurdler. Then be a jumper. And so on. That's how I'm gonna get to that All-American spot.
What're you most looking forward to in Eugene? Anything specific?
Bender: I've never been to Oregon or Hayward Field. "Track Town," is put up on this pedestal and the opportunity to experience that atmosphere is exciting. Coach Horn talks endlessly about the Hayward Magic and I just can't wait to experience that for myself.
Interview with Jenna
Jenna this will be your second trip to the NCAA Championships. How're you feeling about it? Is the feeling any different from the first time you qualified? I'd assume qualifying for this year's meet was a bit more difficult than the first. Would you agree with that?
Hinkle: It was definitely a lot harder this year. 11 girls [including myself] set PR's in the qualifying rounds in order to make it to nationals whereas last year it was a bit more tactical. I'd say I feel more relieved to make it back since that was the goal all year. I definitely feel more prepared knowing what it's like to be at nationals and knowing what to expect from last year's meet. I also feel like my fitness is better than last year and I feel like I'm much better at handling my nerves during races having been to bigger meets this year.
I know the start of your season was on kind of an upscale, but then your performances went down a bit midseason. You ended up refocusing and bouncing back quite well, as evident by your second trip to nationals and your latest school record. How did you go through that process of keeping a good mindset and refocusing as the season went on?
Hinkle: If anything I feel like it worked to my benefit, having kind of a slump, which lead to taking it a bit easier midseason. Over the past two years, I feel like I'd peak earlier in the season and things would then go slightly downhill, and I would feel pretty worn out and tired by the end of the year. This year I took a step back midseason. I was still hitting it hard during runs and workouts, but it was frustrating since it was my senior year and I really wanted to set PRs throughout the season. But Coach Darius would just remind me what the end goal was and that was nationals. I feel much better at the end of the season than I ever have before, and I think that showed at regionals when I ran my lifetime PR [in the 1500m], so I'm really excited to take the opportunity to hopefully PR again and test my fitness at nationals.
What are your goals for nationals? I know for sure you want to get into that final. Is there anything else on your mind?
Hinkle: The end goal would definitely be to get into the final as well as get First-Team All-American. That's been what I've been working for these past four years, but I think taking it one step a time will be my approach for now. First step will be making it out of Thursday's race to get into the final, and then we'll go from there.
What're you most looking forward to in Eugene?
Hinkle: The atmosphere is the coolest thing. Last year it was a little nerve wracking because I never ran in front of such a huge crowd before, but this year feels exciting. It feels like the crowd is just constantly roaring and cheering when you're running and it's just so cool. It's really unique. You normally don't get that kind of experience at meets where it's usually just stray parents and a few fans, so it's definitely the coolest place to run at. I'm really excited to go back and experience that again.