Meet Long Beach State’s NCAA track & field championship qualifiers
National championships — words that have crept into the veins of every competitive college athlete, a goal sought by the most elite, stirring up the greatest determination, and sometimes pain from overexertion of the body or joy from milestone victories. There aren’t many things in life that can make a person feel so much physically and emotionally all in the same week, but competitive sports is one of them. Long Beach State is a top-athlete producing Division I school, and this week, three 49ers compete in the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Oregon.
Although the 49ers are only participating in individual events for the championships, they have each credited their teammates and coaches for their success, each looking to one another for additional support and motivation. With respect comes love — not only for the sport, but also for the team they’ve spent countless hours with throughout the season.
This isn’t the first time Alexander has qualified for the national championships, which could explain why this high-flying track star bleeds confidence as he explains how he is more excited than nervous in preparation for the big performance. Starting his jumping career in the third grade, he might be the most experienced track and field athlete of the trio.
“Oh man, Willie, he is just incredible to watch,” Low said about Alexander. “He is a jumping machine, and I can’t imagine how far he’s going.”
This Fresno native earned three letters in soccer and two in football during high school, while claiming top honors in track and field. Within his first year at LBSU, Alexander has collected a few accolades under his belt: honorable mention All-American, Big West Men’s Freshman of the Year and a two-time All-Big West performer.
Biggest inspiration: “Definitely my teammates. We’re out here practicing together everyday, and have become a really close team. Anything personal that I’ve done, I attribute to them.”
Thoughts right before your approach: “What my coach says a lot of the time. I have to work on driving and getting it out on the back, keep my arms straight and not look down while I’m in the air.”
After finishing 19th in the long jump at last year’s NCAA Championships, Alexander looks to surpass his mark this year.
Although Low comes from a family of standout athletes with his father as a former Sacramento State 800m runner and a cousin who competed on UCLA’s team, Low wasn’t always a track star. His life belonged on the diamond, as he played baseball throughout high school until he broke his arm during practice right before his last season started, which led him to test his abilities on the track.
“It was kind of the best thing that’s happened to me because I’ve been so good at what I do now,” Low said.
He went on to College of the Canyons to rack up two state championships, but was forced to redshirt last year at LBSU after a hamstring injury put him out for almost half a year.
Despite this obstacle, Low bounced back as he accomplished a school-record 1:47.52 at the NCAA West Preliminary last month.
Pre-meet Ritual: Eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich exactly three hours before a meet.
“I don’t know why, I just feel like it’s easy on the stomach, and it helps get a little food in me before my race,” Low said.
Biggest Inspiration This Season: The NCAA title. “I’ve been chasing it…I want it more than anything,” he said.
“This guy does not like to lose,” Enriquez said about Low. “Being with another person that is a strong competitor makes you want to win even more. He pushes me to be better, and we’re always pushing each other.”
A year ago the sophomore star runner Chris Enriquez wasn’t running at all after stepping in glass at his previous school. Enriquez wanted to quit running and pursue other ambitions, but his support system didn’t allow it.
“My family, coaches and teammates … believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself,” Enriquez said. “I’m just blessed to be running. I didn’t think I’d be here…going to nationals.”
Pre-meet Ritual: Chew gum
Enriquez has experienced cottonmouth, which restricts his swallowing and sometimes causes him to vomit. He learned at a young age that chewing gum would help keep his mouth salivated, and has continued his ritual since.
Favorite Athlete: Lopez Lomong
Lomong was kidnapped at the age of six, forced to become a child soldier and witnessed deaths while dodging bullets everyday. After living in a refugee camp for 10 years, he became a track and field Olympic star 20 years later. Enriquez said he admires the Sudan war-child-turned-Olympian for defying all odds.
“You can be from Beverly Hills, or from Uganda, and still be one of the best in the world,” he said.
Enriquez was the 2013 NCAA West Preliminary qualifier in the 5000m, but realized his ability to run even longer distances at the start of this season, making this year his first track and field championship experience in the 10K. Although he knows that taking the gold would be slim to none, he is honored to have been able to achieve an All-American status. Enriquez also gained respect through his hard work and leadership.
“He’s our captain and does a great job motivating other people,” Low said about Enriquez. “He’s always putting in extra work, and makes sure you’re on top of yours.”