The Master's College Men's Distance Team once again showed that they boast talent among the nation's best- at any collegiate level. The Occidental Invitational was another opportunity for them to put their talents on display. Following the GSAC Conference Championships last weekend, the Mustang Men traveled to Occidental College in Eagle Rock, CA for an exciting night of competition under the lights. For 5000m national qualifiers Anthony Pizzo and John Gilbertson, this was an opportunity to sharpen up for the NAIA Track & Field National Championships scheduled to take place in Marion, Indiana, May 26th - 28th. However, for Nathan Seyler and Matthew Crichton, Occidental would be one of two final chances to secure a trip to the national meet in the 3000m steeplechase.
Last weekend's GSAC Championships proved to be bittersweet for TMC steeplers, Seyler and Crichton, with both setting personal records, but coming up just seconds short of the national qualifying mark; freshman Matthew Crichton was just .02 seconds away from claiming a Conference Championship Title in the event, after taking a fall over the water jump on the bell lap. Saturday night was Crichton's opportunity to have revenge on last week's race. Defeating the recent GSAC Champion, Fernando Orozco of Vanguard, Crichton posted a new personal best and school record of 9:27 - good enough to earn his ticket to Marion at the end of May. Teammate Nathan Seyler came up 3 seconds short of the national mark, with a time of 9:32, and will look to make up the difference next weekend at Westmont's "last chance" meet.
"Crichton has a chance to be an eight-time NAIA National Qualifier during his career at TMC," Coach Schroeder said. "Matt was a part of this past fall's cross country team that finished 11th at NAIA Nationals. With last night's performance, he's now in position to go all eight seasons of his collegiate running career with national berths. That's pretty exciting for a freshman, and for our program."
The biggest performances of the night, however, came from super sophomores Anthony Pizzo and John Gilbertson in the Men's 5000m. Arguably the best young talent in the NAIA, Pizzo and Gilbertson dazzled the Occidental crowd with a stellar race Saturday night. Besting the entire UCLA squad, Gilbertson and Pizzo ran tandem throughout the entirety of the race, finishing 1st & 2nd respectively. Tactically sitting in the front pack throughout the first portion of the race, Pizzo took over the lead when the competition began to slow during the 7th lap, followed closely by Gilbertson. Displaying his phenomenal closing speed, Gilbertson won the race with a time of 14:12, followed by Pizzo in 14:15; both men broke the school record set just weeks ago by Pizzo at Mt. SAC.
With the fantastic finish, Gilbertson and Pizzo now boast the 4th and 5th fastest times in the NAIA nationally. "What's truly exciting is that they (Pizzo and Gilbertson) are not just competing at the front of the NAIA, but are chasing down some the best athletes in the nation at the division I level," said Coach Schroeder. "Among all collegiate sophomores in the entire nation, at any level, Gilbertson and Pizzo have posted the 29th and 31st fastest times for 5000m. That's a pretty big deal!"
Gilbertson and Pizzo will now take the next few weeks to sharpen their speed and prepare to chase down a national title in the most competitive race in the NAIA, the Men's 5000m and, with Crichton, to continue to build a name for the Mustang Distance Team among the nation's best.