For the majority of the CC track and field men’s and women’s team, who advanced past conference, the Occidental Invitational in Los Angeles last Saturday was the final meet of the year. A few Tigers ran at North Central College this past Thursday night and sophomore Henry Baldwin will try to improve his high jump mark this Friday in the hope of qualifying for nationals. For the other Tigers on the team, the Occidental meet marked the end to an extremely successful season.
At Occidental, Baldwin finished ninth in the high jump at 6’ 4.75”, and his classmate Trevor Hightower ended his triple jump season with a leap of 41’ 8.5”. The women’s team also had a solid showing, as sophomore Leah Veldhuisen recorded her personal best time of 18:29.75 in the 5,000-meter run, while Junior Duranya Freeman scored her season best in the 800 with a time of 2:20.66.
CC could have taken Saturday’s meet for granted considering conference had passed and it was the last meet of the season for most of the roster, but the level of competition at “Oxy” inspired the Tigers to give maximum effort. “Oxy is an amazing meet because it’s a chance to run a fast time against some insane competition from all three NCAA divisions,” Freeman said, “and even some professionally sponsored athletes/Team USA members.”
The impressive performances by both teams on Saturday was a fitting way to close out a season that was rife with school records and personal bests. This season also included the best finishes at the conference championships in CC history by both the women’s team with 130 points and the men’s team with 79 points.
Head Coach Ted Castaneda said that it was noticeable back when the season began in February that this was going to be a special year for CC Track and Field. At that point in the season, many Tigers were already posting personal best scores and setting school records. The Tigers kept this momentum going throughout the rest of the season, which they capped with their historic performance at the conference championships.
When asked about what specific qualities of this team led to such a successful season, Freeman focused on the strong leadership that the seniors displayed throughout the year. “Every one of the seniors either set a school record, placed in the top three in the conference races, or set a huge personal best,” she said, “Even though the team struggled with a lot of injuries, we had great leaders who kept us all upbeat and moving in the right direction.”
Coach Castaneda struggled to pinpoint exactly what was so special about this team, so he instead decided to share a story from the conference championships that summed the team up perfectly. During the SCAC championships in San Antonio, sophomore Jules Stanley threw the javelin a few times before the relentless Texas heat threatened to prevent her from completing the event. She started to experience heat exhaustion symptoms, and she seemed to be in no condition to continue. However, Stanley was not ready to withdraw from the competition she had worked so hard for throughout the season.
Sensing that their comrade was struggling, Stanley’s teammates came to the scene to give as much motivation as possible, primarily in the form of Gatorade. After the coaches gave her the option to continue, Stanley summoned every bit of energy she could manage and kept on throwing. With her teammates and coaches behind her, Stanley completed the fifth and final throw. In true fairytale fashion, this final throw traveled 121 ft, which is the second furthest toss in school history.
“Powering through in the face of adversity and coming together as a unit,” Castaneda concluded, “That’s what made this team so great.” Later, he was asked about the team banquet he was attending that night. “We have a lot to celebrate,” he said with a smile.