A Point to Prove

Erik Jepsen/Guardian

Facing Division-I competitors, international athletes and even an Olympic gold medalist, the Tritons held their own — and proved they belong among such stellar company — at the UCSD Triton Invitational on April 24.

“The competition here is definitely higher than at conferences,” head coach Tony Salerno said. “And, in some cases, it’s higher than at nationals. To be a winner here is pretty special.”

Former Olympic gold medalist Félix Sánchez — who won the Dominican Republic’s first-ever gold medal in the 400 hurdles at the 2004 Athens games — competed in the 400-meter dash on Saturday. Sánchez, a graduate of nearby University City High School, grew up in the La Jolla Colony apartments behind Doyle Park, though he has represented his country of heritage since 1999. He last competed in the Triton Invite 12 years ago as a member of Mesa Community College; this time however, he competed as one of the world’s most accomplished hurdlers, and easily ran away with the race. Sánchez posted a time of 45.99 seconds.

The Olympian’s presence exemplifies the level of competition attracted to the Triton Invitational: Schools stream in from across the country, and individual athletes come from around the world. Laura Turner, who represented Great Britain at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing was also present, and took both the 100- and 200-meter races. The Triton athletes also proved they belonged.

Senior Christine Merrill won two events, senior Kelly Fogarty forged a new school record and four other Tritons earned hard-fought victories at a star-studded home meet. Junior Theresa Richards and senior Leon Baham posted top-five marks in Division-II with their wins, while junior Caprice Thompson and senior Linda Rainwater also notched victories in their respective events.

Fogarty finished third in the 100, and took a close second in the 200. Fogarty was already the school record holder in the 100, and a time of 24.09 seconds in the 200 gave her the record in that event as well.

While it is not uncommon for Merrill to win multiple events at a meet, doing so at an elite invitational was especially head-turning. Merrill came up victorious in the 100- and 400-meter hurdles, holding off UCLA’s Ryann Krais in both events.

Theresa Richards joined the ranks with a victory in the javelin throw, setting a personal best by over 10 feet with a mark of 149’9” — just enough to edge out University of Kansas thrower Heather Bergmann’s distance of 149’4”. Richards’ distance was the fifth best in Division-II this season. Holly Kane from the University of Tennessee finished third.

The University of Tennessee’s Matt Maloney dominated the men’s javelin event with his throw of 230’11”. It was one of the top 10 in all of NCAA so far this season, beating out UCSD’s sophomore Nick Howe’s effort by nearly 20 feet.

Baham’s win came in the 400-meter hurdles, when he tied for first with Mesa College’s Clark Coyle at 52.18 seconds. Though Baham came down the home stretch with the lead, he clipped a hurdle along the way, allowing Coyle to catch up. But Baham finished strong and did not surrender the lead, allowing the two athletes to share the victory — not even a photo finish could not determine a winner. Baham’s time is the fifth fastest in Division-II this season, and third best in UCSD history.

“It’s exciting,” Baham said. “When you run with faster guys you run faster. Its always a challenge and I welcome it.”

Rainwater won the high jump with a mark of 5’10”, while Thompson came out with a victory in the 3,000-meter steeplechase with a time of 11:27.20 — the fourth best in school history.

“Our athletes see a high level of competition — Division-I level and above — throughout the year,” said Salerno. “When they get to Division-II national they feel very comfortable, and they know they are deserving to win.”

The Tritons have two weeks to prepare for the CCAA Championships, which will be held at UCSD starting May 6.

Readers can contact Liam Rose at [email protected].