Pizzo Leads Mustangs in Ben Brown Success

Ben Brown 3/5/2011

It was a special night in Fullerton, CA last Saturday. TMC's distance team would have 13 athletes competing in 6 different heats of the 5000m run of the Ben Brown distance carnival. Coach Schroeder knew in advance that it was going to be a big evening, "Ben Brown is our first true meet of the season; it's our first opportunity to go hit a qualifying mark to the national championships, and our first real benchmark on the track." With great anticipation for what could be, excitement was high as the Mustangs stepped under the lights at Titan Stadium, ready to make the most of the opportunistic event.

The night began well with John Gilbertson racing the "B" heat of the men's 5000m. Having come through a rough patch of winter training interrupted by minor injury and sickness, John Gilbertson's race plan was to run a conservative effort and secure another trip to the national meet. In 2010, as a freshman, Gilbertson was a national qualifier in both the 1500m and the 5000m, and the Ben Brown offered the chance to repeat qualification in one of those events.

Things went better than planned. Running a very patient race, Gilbertson came out and hit his predetermined splits through the first 10 laps of the 12 and ½ lap race. With 800m to go, Gilbertson made a huge push, moving from 6th place to catch the leader. Finishing 2nd by just .05 seconds, Gilbertson posted a 14:36 personal best. "Not bad to set a PR in your first race of the season, especially coming off the tough winter we had." Coach Schroeder commented. "It's exciting to see us looking this good with very little speed work this early in the year." Gilbertson's 14:36 qualifies him to compete at the NAIA Outdoor Track and Field National Championships in Marion, Indiana in late May.

Freshman Paul Jesson also competed in the men's "B" heat, running a solid 15:09. Jesson took a medical red-shirt during the fall cross country season, and has only been back to training since late November. In spite of the rocky start to his freshman campaign, Jesson has bounced right back, running a lifetime best in his first collegiate 5k. "Jesson has had very little actual training at this point. 15:09 is just a demonstration of Paul's talent. I'm excited to see what happens after he has some real training under his belt," said Schroeder.

On the women's side, itt was another historic day for the lady Mustangs, as TMC's Hayley Parkinson, Holly Kopp, and Hannah Kellerman competed in the "B" heat of the women's 5000m. Kopp was looking for another breakthrough performance as just a few weeks ago,she became the first female athlete to qualify for the NAIA Outdoor Track and Field National Championships, running a 1:24 at the Surf City USA Half Marathon to qualify for the national meet in the marathon. Saturday night she took another step, this time joined by roommate Hayley Parkinson, as the pair became the first TMC women to run under 18:00 for 5k on the track. Coach Schroeder calls the three girls "H cubed", and "the future of women's distance running at TMC." "These three live and train in unison." Saturday night at Ben Brown was no different. Working together throughout the first 7 laps of the race, Parkinson, Kopp and Kellerman went out patient, moving past their competition as a group. Running tough through the latter portion of the race, Parkinson began her push toward the finish. Pulling along teammate Holly Kopp, Parkinson would cross the finish line in 17:55 to set a new school record and personal best, with Kopp close behind (17:59). Kellerman also went on to set a new personal best of 18:28.

Despite these exciting performances, the best race of the night would belong to Anthony Pizzo. Running in the "A" heat of the men's 5000m, among strong division I competition and several post collegiate semi-professionals, Pizzo got out fast and raced to the front. Pacing along through the first half of the race with division I standout, Chad Hall, Pizzo went on to finish 4th overall, ahead of Hall, with an impressive time of 14:18. Pizzo was the first collegiate runner to cross the line as the first three finishers were post-collegiate semi-professional/professional athletes. Coach Schroeder remarked on the significance of Pizzo's performance saying, "This is an outstanding effort and is currently the fastest men's 5k in the nation...Pizzo has been flawless in his winter training. He is doing everything right, practicing excellence if every area of his life. Combining perfection in training with the will to compete leads to great performances." With the mark, Pizzo not only has the fastest time of any collegiate level for outdoor track, but he also broke his previous school record of 14:25, and earned himself a spot at the national meet, where he hopes to chase down the best in the NAIA.

Deserving honorable mention are Sarah Pattison, Katrina Graham, and Micayla Frankian, the rest of TMC's women's distance squad. Following teammates Parkinson, Kopp and Kellerman, all three set personal bests in the "D" heat of the women's 5000m, with Pattison handedly winning the heat in 19:09.