In their final campaign before the California Collegiate Athletic Association conference track and field championships, the UCSD teams thrived among a throng of top-tier college athletes and world-class track stars at the Triton Invitational on April 22 and 23.
Senior Mike Cunningham placed first in the 400-meter dash and fifth in the 400 hurdles and was part of the men’s 4×400 relay team, which set a new UCSD record on April 22.
During the two-day affair, the Triton contingent showed its strength against Division-I powers such as San Diego State University and UC Riverside, as well as several Olympic hopefuls and medalists. Despite the intimidating competition, UCSD prevailed, setting four school records and achieving many national qualifying marks.
In both the men’s and women’s 4×400-meter relay, UCSD set new school marks, with the men finishing first with a time of 3 minutes, 13.94 seconds, and the women placing third in 3:48.39. The men’s squad, composed of seniors Matt Borzage, Jon Patton and Mike Cunningham and sophomore Todd Bettisworth, edged out Cal State Northridge by almost 1.5 seconds and outran Cal State Fullerton by almost six seconds.
In individual competition, freshman sensation Catherine Strouse set a new Triton record in the women’s 3,000 steeplechase, finishing a respectable fourth overall with a time of 11:20.94.
Perhaps the men’s most impressive performance came in the 200 from Patton, who improved his previous school record of 21.84 seconds to 21.81 seconds and placed fourth in the race.
Patton also showed his talent in the 110 hurdles, finishing fifth with a time of 14.81.
Patton’s standout performances thoroughly pleased head coach Tony Salerno, who expects Patton’s strengths to shine in the conference championship.
“[Patton is] a senior that’s come alive,” Salerno said. “He has a great deal of talent in the 200 and that’s the place where we may use him in addition to his best event, the 400 meters.”
The Tritons also received exceptional performances in the women’s 100 and 400 hurdles from sophomore Laiah Blue, who finished second and fourth with times of 14.14 and 1:02, respectively. Blue’s 100 time was her second-best personal finish, and should rank her highly going into nationals.
Salerno said that Blue’s showing proves that she can easily improve on her 10th-place finish at last year’s national championships, and he did not discount the possibility that Blue could win the title.
“[Blue] definitely has a chance at winning [the national title] if everything goes well,” Salerno said. “If you look at the results, she’s ahead of a few of the world-class runners and all of the D-I runners.”
The successful outing allowed the Tritons to test their skills against top opponents, and it served as a practice run for the equally daunting CCAA conference championships, in which the Triton men placed third and the women captured the title last year.
Expectations are running high in the Triton camp, as the teams hope to duplicate their previous successes.
According to Salerno, the CCCA is arguably the strongest D-II conference in the nation.
“Five of our conference teams on the men’s and women’s sides finished in the top 25 nationally last year,” Salerno said. “We’re in pretty good company, and these teams can do quite a bit to damage us.”
Nonetheless, the team feels that the Triton Invitational helped it adequately prepare for the upcoming battle.
“We’re in a fortunate situation where we can test our people against some of the best in the world.” Salerno said. “It gives us a lot of confidence that we can be successful, and I think we’re feeling pretty good right now.”
UCSD will host the CCAA conference championships May 4 through 6, and the familiar surroundings should prove to be beneficial for the the Tritons.
Following the championships, the Tritons will hone their skills at the Occidental Invitational on May 13, and then head to Emporia, Kan., for the NCAA Division-II National Championships.