Record-Setting Tritons Dominate CCAA Foes

    With the home-field advantage and one of the most talented group of athletes in program history, the Tritons dominated the California Collegiate Athletic Association Track and Field Championships May 4 through 6. The women’s team took the title and the men’s team finished second behind two-time defending champions Chico State.

    Greg Dale/Guardian
    Senior Mike Cunningham (center) took first place in the 400-meter hurdles, leading the men’s team to a second place overall finish at the California Collegiate Athletic Association Championships May 4 through 6.

    “It was a tremendous weekend for us, obviously,” head coach Tony Salerno said. “For both programs to have the success they did is more than we could have imagined.”

    The lady Tritons left their CCAA counterparts in the dust, finishing with 265.5 points, easily surpassing runner-up Cal State Los Angeles’ total of 158 points. The women’s team garnered the mass of points with a string of first-place finishes, school records and national-qualifying marks.

    “We really knew since March that the women were going to win the conference championship,” Salerno said. “But to do it in the manner we did — we actually ended up winning by a margin of over 100 points — is pretty much utter domination.”

    Greg Dale/Guardian
    Senior Brianna Hinga placed first and set a school record in the women’s javelin.

    Senior Mimi Hodgins led the way with two top times, in the 800- and 1,500-meter runs, and a third-place finish in the 3,000 run, giving UCSD 26 total points. Hodgins was not alone in her quest to gain the UCSD women a second-straight CCAA championship title, as sophomore Laiah Blue and senior Brianna Hinga set school records.

    Blue added 18 points to the Tritons’ total, with a first-place record time of 14.06 seconds in the 100 hurdles and a second-place time in the 400 hurdles. Meanwhile, Hinga made UCSD history with a javelin throw of 46.31 meters, a record-setting performance that lifted her to the No. 1 ranking in the country.

    Completing the women’s domination, sophomore Emily McGregor took first place in the 5,000 run and finished right behind Hodgins in the 3,000 to place fourth.

    As Salerno put it, the UCSD women’s track and field team “has a lot of superstars.” And while the leaders like Hodgins and Hinga lived up to their stardom, the team also got help from junior Madeleine Flint, whose first-place finish in the pole vault earned her a trip to the upcoming NCAA Division-II National Championships in Kansas May 25 through 27.

    According to Salerno, the women’s team will send anywhere from seven to 11 athletes to the championship meet. After their CCAA title, there’s reason to expect big things from the women at nationals.

    “The sky’s the limit,” Salerno said. “We’re doing some things right and the level of performances we’ve seen from our people tell us that we don’t need to put any limits on what we can do.”

    Salerno’s optimism could be the cause for his team’s success and the reason he was chosen as the 2006 CCAA Women’s Coach of the Year, the second year in a row he has received the honor. Though his consistent success merits such awards, Salerno is almost embarrassed about being singled out as the reason for his women’s dominance.

    “The Coach of the Year award is really an award for the program … and for our coaching staff,” Salerno said. “The coaches we have are the ones [who] actually do the work with the athletes on a daily basis. I get the honor of picking up the plaque, but it really belongs to everyone. I think it’s a little humbling to accept a plaque and know that the staff and the athletes are the ones [who] got it for you. But it’s just an acknowledgement that the program is headed in the right direction and we’re doing the right thing.”

    The other part of the program that is making waves is the men’s team, which matched the women’s team with qualifying times and school records, but couldn’t come away with the overall title and fell to second place behind the Wildcats.

    According to Salerno, despite the disappointment of finishing in second, the Triton men turned in just as impressive performance as his women’s team.

    “[The Wildcats] are one of the best teams in the country right now, so for us to come and end up second ahead of the other teams in the conference is exceptional,”

    Salerno said. “Our conference may be the toughest in the nation. We have five of our conference teams from each gender that finished in the top 25 in the nation last year. I guess the women’s team makes that second maybe not look too good, but the reality is the men did extremely well. People were just competing out of their heads and had clutch performances all the way around.”

    Senior Brad Libuit’s performance was a perfect example. He had three solid finishes, none of which were good enough to take first place. However, Libuit’s all-around talent led him to second-place finishes in the 100 dash and the high jump and a fourth-place finish in the javelin throw. Libuit’s time of 10.80 seconds in the 100 set a new UCSD record, but fell just .03 seconds short of the first-place finisher from Cal State Bakersfield.

    Freshman Scott Tsuda also turned in a breathtaking performance, taking the top spot in the triple jump and finishing sixth in the long jump. Tsuda was awarded the honor of sharing the CCAA Men’s Freshman of the Year award with the Wildcats’ Michael Wickman.

    “Scott’s success there was exceptional because one of the toughest events in the meet was the triple jump,” Salerno said.

    Watching his men’s team place surprisingly well in the championship gave Salerno plenty of hope for the future of his program.

    “We feel real good about things,” Salerno said. “On the men’s side we have several people [who] are top caliber coming into the program. I think we’re headed in the right direction overall, but we’re going to graduate some seniors on the men’s side, more than we would most years. But with the recruits we have coming in and the people that we have on the program now on the way up, things are going to be good.”

    The men will have a chance to impress the nation, as Salerno is planning on sending four or five men to compete in Kansas. Combined with the lady Tritons, this will be the largest-ever group of UCSD athletes sent to compete at nationals.

    For now, however, Salerno insisted he is living in the moment and can’t comprehend how well his teams did.

    “It was just a phenomenal weekend,” he said. “We’re still just kind of buzzing off of it. It’s not too often in your career that you have both teams compete at this level all in one meet.”

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