Long Beach State track and field underdogs prevail

Willie Alexander jumps in his final round at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Oregon last Thursday.

Anita Wang, Sports Editor
June 18, 2014
Filed under Showcase, Sports

After a triumphant season, it is no surprise that this team is full of people with passion, strength and tenacity, who are ready for the next level. So for the naysayers, nonbelievers and people who think money will produce top-performing athletes, watch out as head coach Andy Sythe and company take their underdogs to the top.

Last weekend, three All-American track and field 49er men returned home from the University of Oregon where the NCAA Outdoor Championships were held, bringing pride to The Beach.

Junior Chris Low became Long Beach State’s first-ever All-American in the 800-meter after he clocked in at one minute and 48.28 seconds for a seventh place finish. Low ended the season with the Big West title and set the school record twice. Until recently, Low’s talents have surprised people, as he was never looked at as a top recruit.

“No one recruited this guy [Low] out of junior college,” distance coach Patrick Wales-Dinan said. “He’s been running with a chip on his shoulder for a long time and has been overlooked despite his success, and I don’t know why.”

Sophomore Willie Alexander finished as a runner-up in the long jump with a 25-04.25 mark, a little less than one foot behind Florida’s Marquis Dendy (26-03), making it LBSU’s best individual finish at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in 16 years.

Alexander is also the first 49er to earn first-team All-American accolades since Chris Richardson and Brent Gray in 2008, but all these accomplishments still left Alexander slightly unsatisfied. He said he knew he could have achieved more last week.

“I was very frustrated after I was done competing,” Alexander said. “Being an athlete comes with being very competitive, and nobody likes taking second.

Although sophomore Chris Enriquez finished 20th overall at 30:48.7, it was only his third time racing in the 10K, with his first race registering the second best mark in program history at 29:12.46.

The 49ers finished in the top of the Big West as they tied for 24th. This was their best showing at the championships since 2006, when they tied for 16th, and closed out the season with a big finish as they placed ahead of a handful of Pac-12 (Stanford, UCLA, Washington), Big 12 (Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech) and Big 10 (Michigan, Penn State) programs.

While these highly acclaimed programs have been known to pride themselves on their history of great athletic achievements, grand facilities and a strong flow of finances, head coach Andy Sythe said he takes pride in something more.

“We hear other coaches talk about not wanting to see anything track-related for the next few months,” Sythe said. “Our staff and myself would walk away thinking we couldn’t get enough, and it’s great to see our program with that mindset.”

Despite the delight with the staff’s mindset and athletes’ immense dedication, there is one thing the team wouldn’t boast about: its track.

It has been almost a decade since the 49ers track and field team has competed on its own turf because a lack of resources. What’s supposed to be a safe road to success is actually one with restricted areas because of the track’s cracks that could put athletes at risk for injury.

“It’s definitely not a good surface,” Alexander said. “We couldn’t run on lanes 1 or 8 and people other than the track team aren’t even allowed on the track because of liability issues. But you just have to deal with what you got.”

Although the disadvantages of not having any meets at home, and an unappealing and hazardous track, can be annoying, the 49ers understand that great athletes don’t make excuses or allow obstacles to throw off their focus.

Even without the same amount of finances or impressive track that most Division I Southern California schools have, Sythe said he tries to build high hopes for the years to come.

“It has been an honor to be in the company of the top-25 in the nation,” Sythe said. “I believe there are guys and gals who didn’t make it this year that will next year. I believe we are capable of making the top 10 next year, and I see the team hitting its peak in two years.”

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