UC Davis distance runners shined at Friday night’s New York Road Runners Distance Carnival portion of California’s Brutus Hamilton Invitational.
Headlining their performances was junior Russ Pfaff’s second-place finish in the steeplechase (8:48.81), which easily qualified him for regionals. Additionally, that time puts him second all-time at UC Davis, No. 2 in the West Region and No. 9 in the nation.
“I knew it was finally time to break nine,” Pfaff said. “That has been the goal for a while now, but I didn’t think I would get that far under. I went with guys that can run in the 9:30s, so I knew it was going to be good, or I’d at least shamble home and still qualify for regionals.“
Due to some late scratches, the college and elite sections of the event were combined, leading to Pfaff racing against much stiffer competition, including eventual race winner Jacques Sallberg.
Sallberg had a personal best over 40 seconds faster than Pfaff’s entering the meet. He competed in last summer’s Olympic Trials.
“I knew I was going to go with the elite guys,” Pfaff said. “We broke off from the pack pretty quickly. I felt really good throughout the race, but there were a couple of times when I landed off balance or stutter-stepped on my approach, and every time those miscues happen, it is another couple of seconds.
“I just happened to have two-stepped the most important hurdle – the last one – and was not able to make up for it and thus lost by .27 seconds.“
After such a performance, Pfaff set some lofty goals for the rest of the season.
“I want to win Big West in the steeple,” Pfaff said. “I want to go to nationals in the steeple, destroy the school record, double at regionals (1,500m and steeple), stay healthy, put Davis on the map and let everyone else know that we can compete.“
In addition to Pfaff, junior Kyle Suarez and David Buscho competed in the steeplechase, taking fifth (9:17.28) and seventh (9:25.80), respectively.
The Aggies continued to impress in the distance events with the 5,000m shortly thereafter. They were led by senior Pat Parsel, who set a personal record of 14:32.30 to finish fourth. Sophomore Jonathan Peterson (14:38.93) was right behind in fifth, and freshmen Kindu Ejigu (14:56.79) and junior Scott Himmelberger (14.57.04) broke the 15-minute barrier for the first time as they took 10th and 11th, respectively.
“It’s been three years since I have set a P.R. in any distance on the track,” Parsel said. “Why it happened last night, I’m not quite sure. If I knew the answer to that, I would have done it a while ago. But I tried to keep having faith that it would come and stay positive.
“I’ve learned that just because you have the talent and put in the work, you aren’t promised anything. But as much of a struggle as it’s been the last three years, it was worth it, if even for just two seconds.“
His time easily qualified him for the Big West Conference Championships, which will be his first chance to compete at a Division I conference track meet.
“The only goal [distance coach] Drew [Wartenburg] and I talked about coming in was to be sure we left with a conference qualifying time [14:55],” Parsel said. “More than anything, I look forward to going to conference and competing. I want to compete to the best of my ability and score as many points for the team as I can.”
In the 110m hurdles on Saturday, junior Jazz Trice destroyed the field in the invitational section to win in 13.65. Trice’s time would have been a school record and top-10 time on the national list, but the wind of 2.5 meters per second was over the allowable limit for record purposes (2.0 m/s). Senior Polly Gnepa took fifth in 14.01.
Shortly thereafter, junior Alex Wilright and sophomore Thomas Phillips dominated the 400m, clocking 47.26 and 47.28, respectively, to go under the old school record of 47.42 from 1982.
“Honestly, that record should have gone down a long time ago, so it feels great that me and Thomas took it down together,” Wilright said. “We just worked together the last 100m, kind of like practice.“
Though Wilright and Phillips dominated the open 400m, their main event is the 400m hurdles. They sit first and second on the all-time list at UC Davis in that event as well. Phillips cemented his place there by finishing a solid second in 50.96 on Friday to become the second Aggie to break the 51-second barrier.
“I am just waiting for the day where Thomas busts out and flies by me,” Wilright said. “We both work equally hard in practice and we use each other to get better. You should see both of us in the NCAA national finals for the 400m hurdles.”
ALEX WOLF-ROOT can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.