The GSAC Outdoor Track and Field Conference Championships were held this weekend at Fresno Pacific University, where TMC's men delivered exciting and historic performances.
The Mustangs opened up the two day event Friday afternoon with Anthony Pizzo running the men's 1500m prelim. Cruising to an easy qualification to Saturday's final, Pizzo ran a comfortable 4:10, finishing 2nd in his heat and securing his advance.
The highlight of Friday's competition, and perhaps the entire meet, came later that day in the men's 3000m steeplechase, featuring TMC's Nathan Seyler and Matthew Crichton. Going into the race, Coach Schroeder told Seyler and Crichton of their opportunity to bring home what would be a first ever conference championship title in an individual track and field event for The Master's College. The race proved to be a thriller, as Seyler and Crichton ran a tactically sound race, executing their predetermined race plan perfectly. Seyler and Crichton allowed Vanguard's Fernando Orozco to lead the race through the first 4 laps of competition, Orozco having the best seed time going into the conference meet. With 3 laps remaining, junior Nathan Seyler began his push toward the finish. Taking over the lead, Seyler created separation between himself and the rest of the field. Following the leadership of Seyler, freshman Matthew Crichton responded, quickly closing the gap between himself and his teammate, with Orozco, Carter Williams (Biola), and Isia Orea (Fresno Pacific) following suit. It was an extremely tight pack of 5 that rounded the top of the curve on the final bell lap. With 200m to go, Crichton determined he was going to take the race. Taking over the lead as he approached the final water jump, Crichton made an unprecedented move as he hurdled the barrier, attempting to save time. Unfortunately, his footing compromised, Crichton went down hard into the pit. Unwilling to give up, Crichton sprang to his feet and made a spectacular effort to win the race. Chasing down the pack of 4 that had passed him, Crichton put all but Orozco behind him. The race was a photo finish, with both Crichton and Orozco leaning at the line. After several minutes of review, it was determined that Orozco had won the race by.002 seconds; Orozco't time 9:29.134, and Crichton's 9:29.136. Crichton's 2nd place finish earned him All GSAC Honors and 8 points for the meet. Nathan Seyler finished 5th, just seconds behind Crichton, with a time of 9:33.
"It was a very bittersweet moment", Coach Schroeder commented. "I couldn't have asked for a better race from Matt or Seyler. They executed the race exactly like they were supposed to. It's pretty exciting to see a freshman run with that kind of passion; it was truly a heroic effort on Matt's part… but missing an individual conference championship title by two thousandths of a second, what a heart break!"
Compounding the disappointment was the fact both Crichton and Seyler narrowly missed the national qualifying mark for the steeplechase. The qualifying standard for 2011 was set at 9:29.00; Crichton came up just .13 seconds shy, and Seyler a mere 4 seconds. Fortunately, both men will have a chance to hit their mark this weekend at the Oxy Invite. Coach Schroeder is confident both athletes are ready to qualify, and is looking forward to both Crichton and Seyler joining the group of TMC's distance team already heading to Marion, Indiana.
Going into Saturday with the victory in the steeplechase having scarcely elduded Matthew Crichton, the historic first individual conference champion title was still on the line, but not for long.
The day's competition began once again with Anthony Pizzo, this time running the final of the men's 1500m. Finishing 4th overall in a very competitive race, Pizzo posted a time of 3:57, qualifying for the NAIA track and field national championships in the event; Pizzo has already qualified to compete at nationals in the 5000m, and currently holds the 4th fastest time on the NAIA national performance list.
Later in the day, Pizzo came back to compete in the 5000m final, joined by teammate John Gilbertson. Both men were still on the hunt for a title. With all notable competition having scratched from the race, the men's 5000m proved to be somewhat anticlimactic for the Mustang men. Running #1, #2 throughout the race, Gilbertson and Pizzo cruised to easy 1st and 2nd place finishes, securing the first GSAC Individual Champion. Gilbertson came in just ahead of Pizzo, with both men earning All GSAC Honors. "What was most noteworthy about the race was winning our first conference title in an individual event," Coach Schroeder said. "I wish it could have happened in a more exciting way… but those firsts are always special, and it was good to see Gilbertson get it."
With Conference Championships behind them now, the season comes to a close for some of TMC's men's distance team. However, for Pizzo and Gilbertson, and hopefully Crichton and Seyler, the march towards the National Championships continues. With all the fantastic races over the course of the season, the best racing is still to come.