Graduation is an emotional time, for both those who are graduating and for those who are in the crowd watching their friends or family moving on to new opportunities. It is a time of imagination and reflection as we remember pasts and ponder futures.
While Cal track and field’s last regular season track meet, the Brutus Hamilton Challenge, was not a graduation, it showcased one of those rare moments when the past and the future collide.
The Bears hunted for qualifying marks for the postseason. Seniors ran their last meet at Edwards Stadium. Tony Sandoval oversaw his final regular season meet as director of Cal track and field and emotions flowed freely on a warm weekend in the Bay Area.
Cal put their stamp on the Brutus Hamilton Challenge, winning 25 events over two days. Despite the glut of victories, few athletes registered qualifying marks, a persistent goal in the world of college track and field. The Brutus Hamilton Challenge failed to attract the top talent necessary to stimulate nationally or regionally relevant performances, instead featuring local athletes and schools.
Several Bears still stood out in spite of this apparent scarcity. Zion Corrales Nelson was the embodiment of Cal’s success, winning and posting personal bests in the 100, 200 and 400 meter races. Corrales Nelson’s times for both the 100 and 200 meter races place her in the NCAA West Region’s top 48, while her 400 meter time leaves her just a few spots outside of qualification. It is unlikely that Corrales Nelson would compete in all three events at the regional level due to the quantity of races she would have to participate in, but the junior has certainly put herself in a position to be competitive this postseason.
Coach Tony Sandoval was emotional before the meet, citing the length of his time at Cal and the memories and bonds he has built after 37 years of coaching in Berkeley. In his last regular season meet in charge of the program, the Bears paid tribute to their longtime mentor by dominating the 800 meters, Sandoval’s specialty.
Cal swept the podium in both the men’s and women’s events. All six athletes registered personal bests on the day. Moises Medrano and winner Ben Micallef finished just .07 seconds apart in a heated finish which saw both close in on qualification spots. Each athlete will need big performances at the upcoming Pac-12 championships to prolong their seasons.
Rebecca Croft, Jordyn Colter and Mina Anglero have all had a great season at the 800 meters, and each continued that excellence, as their personal bests moved all three back into the NCAA West Region’s top 48. Croft leads the Bears in that event, with her 2:06.44 good enough for 27th regionally.
The Bears still stumbled in places. A usually capable jumps team saw several athletes fail to record marks. Jack Phillips no-heighted at the high jump and All-American Tuomas Kaukolahti fouled out at the triple jump.
Despite their struggles, history will likely remember this weekend in the East Bay with fondness, as Tony Sandoval led his team into Edwards Stadium for the last time. The future beckons to the Bears, who will turn to the Pac-12 Championships in the coming weeks with a desire to extend their seasons.