SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - The Saint Mary's men's and women's track teams headed to Daly City this past Saturday to compete at the Johnny Mathis Invitational hosted by San Francisco State. This meet marked the third track meet of the Gaels' inaugural season. All athletes in attendance would have to battle some strong competition and work through consistently pouring rain and cold conditions. However, the Gaels did not disappoint.
On the women's side, junior Erin Burke kicked off the day by improving on her own school record in the 3K Steeplechase to finish in 6th place overall with a time of 12:18.21. "Erin did well. She is still learning hurdling technique and working on her barrier acceleration but she was able to push between the jumps and set a 10 second personal record. She'll improve greatly with some more technical work and core strength," said head coach Marty Kinsey.
In the 1500m, the women put together solid racing strategies and displayed strong fitness levels to win three of the six heats. Starting off for the Gaels was sophomore Alicia Doohan and freshman Cristina Garcia. As the gun sounded, Alyssa Thiele of Cal State Stanislaus took an immediate 30 meter lead over the trail pack.
"We've been working on staying patient and letting our fitness do the talking over the last half of the race," said Kinsey. Doohan did just that as she stayed with the trail pack for the majority of the race. At the bell lap, Doohan used a huge kick to close the gap and win her heat by .04 seconds, setting her lifetime best in 4:49.83. Garcia, coming off injury and illness, finished in 5:08.9.
Following Doohan's heat, senior Maria Ahlqvist found her form by staying with the lead pack until the final 300 meters of the race. Ahlqvist surged to the lead and never looked back, winning her heat in a season best of 4:58.43. In heat five, sophomore Maureen May put her strong kick on display after drafting off the leader for three laps. As Ahlqvist did before her, May surged past the leader with 300 meters to go and never looked back. She would finish with a lifetime best 4:59.92 and the heat win. "The 1500m crew raced intelligently today. The confidence they are gaining is encouraging and the way they approached today's race was excellent. It's good to see Saint Mary's crossing the finishing line before everyone else," said Kinsey.
The hours of pouring rain proved not to be a distraction for the women racing the 5K. Junior Eli Obando broke the 19-minute barrier for the first time in her career to finish in 18:55.36. Sophomore Emma Kroloff, who played soccer for Saint Mary's until January, set a lifetime best by battling out a 19:36.79.
"I felt great out there, like I could have a conversation for the first two miles. I just didn't want to push it too hard too soon. But I was able to run a PR in my first 5K of the season," exclaimed a smiling Kroloff.
Sophomore Alex Choy, running virtually by herself for the 12 ½ lap race, finished in 20:04.82, a big improvement on the season. Jackie Danens set a PR and close in 20:42.04, while Madison Thompson bettered her lifetime best by 30 seconds to finish in 20:59.68.
For the men, two impact performances highlighted the rainy afternoon for the Gaels. Freshman Gilbert Mundo, competing in the 1500m, ran a tactically savvy race to pull within meters of the lead pack with 200 meters remaining. With a strong finishing kick, Mundo would surge past the leaders to take the heat in 4:05.16. Hours after his 1500m performance, Mundo would return in the 800m to run another technically sound race and set a new Saint Mary's College school record of 1:58.33.
"Gilbert is just the type of athlete we want to help develop our middle distance group," said associate head coach Mark Carberry. "He came to us with strong high school times and a capacity to train at higher mileage. Hard work and a passion for the sport should have him racing towards the front of a lot of races for years to come."
Mundo's classmate, Cormac McCullaugh, wasn't far behind in both races. McCullaugh finished the 800m in 2:01.99 and bettered his collegiate best by nearly ten seconds to finish the 1500m in 4:08.94.
The men's 5K featured seven Gaels, none more visible than sophomore Rajpaul Pannu. Pannu took a strong early lead to come through the first mile in 4:40. Though the fast early pace caught up to him, he gutted through a difficult race that saw a pack of three runners surrounding him. Pannu's 2nd place overall finish also came with a lifetime best of 14:48.45, good for second on the Saint Mary's all-time list.
"The conditions and race strategy weren't ideal but the tenacity that Raj raced with shows he has a lot of room to grow," added Carberry. Also setting personal bests were Jordan Lerma (15:32.76 - 13th), TJ Brown-Pinizzotto (15:37.29 - 15th), and Justin Jayme (16:00.48 - 22nd).
Also competing for the Gaels were sophomore Trevor Araujo and freshman Nick Ellingson in their 2012 debut steeplechase. Araujo, a recent addition from nearby Merritt College, finished in a lifetime best 10:15.20, while Ellingson, competing for the first time since November, came through in 10:54.38.
"At the end of the day 17 athletes tied or set new personal records. I'd say that's a pretty solid day," said Kinsey.
Next up for Saint Mary's is the Chico State Distance Carnival and Chico Twilight Invitational on April 13th and 14th.