Track and field sweep the competition under the rug

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From back left: Jada Newkirk (first-year), Rachel Cockburn (junior) From front left: LaShauna Porter (sophomore), Emma Yudelevitch (junior). Photo courtesy of Jeremy Bloom
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Occidental men’s and women’s track teams swept their respective multi-dual meets with 4–0 victories against Chapman, La Verne, California Lutheran and Whittier at Jack Kemp Stadium and Bill Henry Track April 14. The women’s team beat Whittier 116–38, La Verne 108–49, Chapman 137.33–7.66 and Cal Lutheran 113.5–47.5. The men’s team beat Whittier 121–41, La Verne 111–52, Chapman 149–8 and Cal Lutheran 131–31. The wins propelled both teams forward for the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) Championships at Redlands April 27 and 28, and subsequently the Division III National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Nationals at the end of May.

“Both the men’s and women’s teams swept 4–0, which is what we [the coaching staff] were expecting, to be honest,” head coach Rob Bartlett said.

Despite a rocky previous meet against the University of Redlands ending in a loss of 69–77, both teams used this loss to boost up energy and competitive spirit for their meets, according to Bartlett.

“Almost half of our team had either a season-best or a lifetime-best performance[s] at this meet,” Bartlett said.

Impressive performances on the women’s team included LaShauna Porter (sophomore)’s win in the 200 meter with a time of 25.14 and in the 100 meter with a time of 12.20, according to Bartlett. Earlier in April, Porter’s 200 meter was the fifth-fastest time in the country. After breaking her ankle at the SCIAC Championships last season, Porter hopes to continue to drop time and make it onto the podium in her events. By filling out pre-meet goal sheets together as a team, there was a cohesive drive that helped sweep all four teams, according to Porter. Following the meet, Porter was named SCIAC Athlete of the Week.

“I think that the overall training this year has been really helpful,” Porter said. “I have really great people that I train with and they really push me.”

Eva Townsend (senior) set a new personal record by over 14 seconds in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the Bryan Clay Invitational at Azusa Pacific University April 20. With a time of 11:23.51, she moved from ninth to fourth on Occidental’s all-time list in that event. Townsend said she believes that the team’s energy is what helped contribute most to the multi-dual meet sweep. As a distance runner, mileage has been the most critical part of training this season, according to Townsend.

“Cheering is obviously so important,” Townsend said. “Just feeling like your team is counting on you, and you’re counting on them is a really important part to success on the team.”

The team’s dynamic is like a family, according to Porter. The whole team supporting each other was definitely a huge factor for the wins, Jada Newkirk (first year) said. Newkirk is a member of the 4 x 100-meter relay, whose team has moved up to the fifth fastest time in Occidental’s history with a time of 49.15. Additionally, Newkirk’s long jump record at 18 feet 1.5 inches is the fifth furthest jump in Occidental’s history. Looking ahead to the SCIAC Championship, Newkirk hopes to at least make season-best times in all of her events.

“I think that meet [the multi dual] really gave everyone a lot of confidence going into our championship meet,” Newkirk said.

On the men’s team, 2017 SCIAC long jump champion Austin DeWitz (junior) and distance runner Brody Barkan (junior) both had excellent performances at the multi-dual meet, according to Bartlett. DeWitz won the high jump and Barkan won the 800 meter. Through training more for the 1500, Barkan’s 800 has improved exponentially throughout the season.

“By running the 1500 meter this season, a lot of pressure has been taken off of my 800 meter, which has really helped both events,” Barkan said.

Brody Barkan (junior) is on the Occidental track team. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Bloom

Following the multi-dual meet, Barkan ran the fastest time in the SCIAC conference in the 1500 meter at the Bryan Clay Invitational. DeWitz hopes to defend his title at the SCIAC championships.

“[The coaches] are amazing, and definitely push each and every one of us as athletes and as a team,” DeWitz said.

Many athletes hoped to qualify for NCAA DIII Championships at the SCIAC Championship meet on April 27 and 28. Both the men’s and women’s teams placed third at SCIACs. Event winners for the men’s team included DeWitz, Zach Greenleaf (junior) and Brody Barkan. Both Porter and Sabrina Degnan (junior) were point leaders for the women’s team with multiple All-SCIAC performances. Pomona-Pitzer won the men’s championship and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps won the women’s championship.

Nationals will take place May 24–26 in La Crosse, Wisconsin.