If you were to randomly ask someone from anywhere in the world outside the United States who their favorite athlete was, they would reply with someone who competes in track and field.
This isn’t because track and field is a globally popular sport, but mostly due to the fact that to the rest of the world, the word “athletics” means what we call “track and field.”
When Americans talk about “athletes,” the rest of the world thinks of “sportsmen” or “sportswomen.“
The UC Davis faithful will get their first look at their “athletes” when track and field opens its season on Jan. 31 in Seattle, Wash. at the University of Washington Invitational.
Last year, both of UC Davis‘ teams placed seventh at the Big West Conference Championships, but this year they are looking for more.
“When we went to our first Big West Conference championships,” said head women’s coach Deanne Vochatzer, “we had a team comprised of individuals, none of whom had ever competed at a conference meet for UC Davis due to the four-year ban on postseason competition. Basically, we got caught off guard. They spanked us pretty good.“
This year, things are different.
“We changed our schedule this year to go to the south four times this year – we’re the only school in the north – and be in the meets those schools will be in,” said head men’s coach Jon Vochatzer. “We weren’t ready last year, we didn’t know.
“Now, 2009, everyone knows who’s going to be there. Our whole focus is to go to the Big West Championships and do what we can do. I think we can go out there and make an impact.“
The Aggies have a strong squad across the board this year, and we’ll break them down into their event groups here.
Sprints (100m, 200m, 400m, 4x100m and 4x400m): The Aggie women return a solid core of sprinters, including school record-holder in the 100m Nicole Theus, school record-holder in the 200m Ugo Eke and the extremely versatile co-captain Stephanie Eckels.
The long sprints (200m-400m) should feature Willa Porter, Kiara Reed and freshman Tonie Williams.
“I am a part of the ‘utility crew‘ – people who get thrown into any event where we are needed, along with Willa, Ugo and Poly (Gnepa),” Eckles said. “With our returning sprinters, plus our new talent, we are becoming a better-rounded team.“
The men add a top freshman, Gavin Banks, who joins a solid squad of veterans that could do some damage at conference.
“We are very excited about getting Gavin,” Jon Vochatzer said. “He’s going to be a big boost for us in that short sprint group. Then we return Josh Fuchs, a 100m-200m guy, as well as co-captain Matt Council and Micah Grant, who will run the 200m and 400m. This should be the first time we really have power in the 100m, 200m and 400m.“
Middle-distance and distance (800m, 1,500m, 5,000m, 10,000m, 3,000m and steeplechase): The core of this group returns after the fall cross country season, including junior Brianna Larson and seniors K.C. Cody, Patrick Parsel and co-captain Kim Conley, a national qualifier in the fall.
Other top returners include Lorin Scott and Jenna Gaily for the women’s middle distance, and Jonathan Sees and Jonathan Peterson for the men.
“We lost some guys from cross country,” Cody said, “but most of our big guns remain. Jonathan Peterson (who redshirted during cross country) is going to do some spectacular things this year. Watch out for that guy.“
Freshmen should also play a role, specifically Tonie Williams in the 800m. There is also strong potential in the men’s steeple with Russ Pfaff and Kyle Suarez, while Ali Stoakley leads the women’s steeple.
Hurdles (110m hurdles and 400m hurdles): The hurdles are strong for the Aggies, with the men getting back Alex Wilright – school record-holder in the 400m hurdles – who redshirted last year, and the women getting a boost from the sprint crew.
“We moved Ugo to the 400m hurdles,” Deanne Vochatzer said. “She could be the surprise of the conference. She’ll run the open quarter (400m) too, but we think she has the chance to be a national class 400m hurdler.“
In the 100m hurdles, the women return school record-holder Sirena Williams, while the men boast Jazz Trice and Poly Gnepa, who went 2-3 at the Big West Championships last year.
Jumps (long jump, triple jump, high jump and pole vault): The high jump should see a nice improvement from last year, with the men getting Ben Nelson back from a mission and the women getting two new freshmen in Alexa Green and Caitlin Jones.
The pole vault returns Tessa Frasier and adds freshmen Lauren Radke and Azariah Lewis. The men’s vaulters will be led by seniors Joey Farkash and Jamie Feaster.
The horizontal jumps feature returners in Tolu Wusu and Ray Green for the men and Eckles and Williams for the women. Additionally, some freshmen and multi-eventers will be aiding this group, which looks to have a solid showing this season.
“Field events will be fun,” Jon Vochatzer said. “We have a lot of talent there. They’re coming in all ready to go.“
Throws (shot put, discus throw, hammer throw and javelin): Key for the Aggie men will be Matt Swarbrick and Jake Fuller in the shot put, discus and hammer throw, while Broc Bennet and co-captain Lance Walkington will handle the javelin.
“The javelin event is like no other,” Walkington said. “It is one of the most dynamic and explosive actions in sports. As the American record holder (Breaux Greer) said, ‘You have to be as strong as a shot putter, explosive like a high jumper and have the speed of a sprinter.‘ Not an easy task.“
The women look to be led by Chid Onyewenyi, who will be shooting for school records in both the shot put and the hammer throw. Brittany Bickel should lead the javelin squad, and will be joined by JC transfer Anikia Jackson.
Multis (decathlon and heptathlon): These involve multiple events – 10 for men’s decathlon, seven for women’s heptathlon – contested over two days. The results of each event are translated into points, and overall places are determined by total point score after day two.
The women bring in a pair of new faces, while the men add two freshmen in William Guthrie and Robert Neely.
“They are at the beginning stages of development in the decathlon,” Jon Vochatzer said. “They’re hungry. We haven’t had a good decathlete here for the last three years. It’s just so exciting to have those guys on our team.“
ALEX WOLF-ROOT can be reached at email@example.com.