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Friday, October 22, 2021

Despite injuries, Aggies rally at Big West Championships

This weekend, the UC Davis track and field squads aimed for the top spot at the Big West Conference Championships held in Northridge, Calif.

“Anybody not in an Aggie uniform is a target,” said women’s coach Deanne Vochatzer.

Though the men finished fifth and the women came in at third, coaches from other teams recognized UC Davis as a potential threat.

“Cal State Northridge’s coach thought that we would win by 25 points,” Deanne Vochatzer said. “If we were healthy, we would’ve been banging on the door for winning the championship.”

The Aggies’ depth was significantly diminished by the losses of key players to injury. Tessa Fraser and Lauren Radke for the women and Ethan Ostrom, Gavin Banks and Matt Council on the men’s side were unable to compete.

Despite these injuries, other Aggies stepped up.

“We saw a lot of effort,” Deanne Vochatzer said. “We had a mishap with Alice Stoakley. On the first lap, [Stoakley] got stepped on and her shoe ripped. After, there was some pretty nasty blistering and bleeding. I see that kind of effort and see Aggie pride. I’m really proud.”

The athletes who fought for Aggie pride have other things they can be proud of too. Along with toughness, the Aggies displayed talent and a willingness to compete with some of the best runners in the country.

After Ashley Hearn’s disappointing hammer throw, she came back to register a school-record performance in the discus.

“She had trouble in the hammer because of the foot injury that she had been fighting,” Deanne Vochatzer said. “She popped a 173 and set the record that had she had been gunning for her whole year. That was really exciting to watch.”

Teammate Sirena Williams also demonstrated the Aggies’ fight. She lowered her own school record on Friday, running the 100 hurdles in 13.49. In the finals, she went against defending champion Lauren Williams from Cal State Fullerton, but lost by two hundredths of a second.

“Lauren didn’t catch Sirena until three or four strides away from the finish,” Deanne Vochatzer said. “It was an instance of a senior trying to put her mark on the program.”

The men were paced by key performances from Thomas Phillips, Ray Green and Polly Gnepa.

Phillips defended his title in the 400 by finishing in 47.30. Gnepa also took first in the high hurdles with a time of 13.87.

In the triple jump, Ray Green posted a distance of 49-9.75, a career-best by more than five inches.

Yet despite the great successes, Jon Vochatzer is more proud of the way his team responded to challenges.

“We put band-aids over a lot of different events,” Jon Vochatzer said. “The kids stepped up and actually volunteered for different events. I think all the kids switched up and did what they had to do to take the place of those who couldn’t be there.”

Though the season is over for most of the athletes on the team, the mood is upbeat for next year.

“This is the first year where our kids felt comfortable going toe to toe against UC Santa Barbara and [State] Northridge,” Jon Vochatzer said. “It was thunderous on the track. All the kids were screaming, jumping, hooting and hollering.

“We know how to be contenders, and we’re going to be stronger next year than we were this year. We had a great recruiting class and they’re going to support our team next year. If we’re healthy, we’re going to be loaded.”

UC Davis will send several athletes to the NCAA West Preliminary Championships held at the University of Texas on May 27 to 29.

MATT WANG can be reached at sports@theaggie.org.

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