UC Irvine was able to take several plaques in their final track event of the season, with both men and women finishing in seventh place at the Big West Championship on May 12. Although the field events began at 9 a.m., large crowds didn’t show up until minutes before the first track race at 2 p.m. This event saw UCI say farewell to several of its top senior athletes to ever compete on the school’s behalf, including Jacob Yowell, Amber Middleton, Dominic Jester, Kelly Collins and the nationally emerging Charles Jock.
The women’s 100-meter hurdles met some controversy, which may have cost Middleton’s personal record time. After the start of the gun, Amber Middleton bolted halfway through the race before the starter re-fired his gun to discontinue the race due to a technical problem with the timer. The runners, who were given a 10-minute break, returned to their marks. But the second attempt was halted as the starter disqualified a runner for a false start. On the third try, the race finally went smoothly. Middleton had a clean run, but finished in second place with a time of 13.74 seconds.
“I don’t feel like it [the restart] killed my time, but it definitely felt like I was off to a better start the first time I went,” said Middleton. “I obviously wanted to get first place, and I didn’t get that. But I’m happy to be here and I’m happy to represent my team in getting second.”
Middleton would earn another second-place finish in the 400-meter hurdles behind junior Ericka Nowell. Nowell set a new personal record with a time of 58.76 while Middleton finished with 59.66.
“Obviously I wanted to win, but when I stepped up to the line, it didn’t matter to me,” said Middleton. “The fact that we both got first and second, that’s what mattered to me. I was just glad that we both got to represent our schools up there.”
“It feels great, we were just talking about it before like the whole Irvine duo and let’s go get in and get both of us out there,” said Nowell. “We’re both helping out our team get points and also just ourselves, we want to do good and have expectations for ourselves.”
Jacob Yowell managed to take first place in the 110-meter hurdles in a sloppy race that featured a lot of knocked down hurdles. Despite knocking down a few, Yowell managed to maintain his rhythm and gutted to a first-place finish with a time of 14 seconds flat, .09 seconds away from his personal best.
“No matter what the time is, I wanted to win conference,” said Yowell. “I wasn’t focused on the scoreboard. I just wanted to win.”
Unfortunately, Yowell fell short of sweeping both hurdling titles, finishing runner-up to Christopher Lawson in the 400-meter hurdles with a time of 51.91, 1.25 seconds behind the leading time.
Charles Jock ran the fastest time in the U.S. this year during the 800 meters. Last year, Jock fell behind rival Ryan Martin of UC Santa Barbara by .06 seconds at the Big West Championship. This year, Jock barely edged out Martin for first place with a time of 1:44.75, .02 seconds faster than Martin. Jock’s time set a new record for the conference meet and stadium. Jock came out of the start strong and led by a large gap in the first 600 meters; however, Martin managed to close in on Jock in the final 150 meters and the two were neck-to-neck until they crossed the finish line.
“I really started pushing it a little bit at 150 left, but it was amazing how strong I felt,” Jock said. “The last 150 meters, I was thinking ‘there was no way I’m gonna lose this.’ I felt so confident, but when he [Martin] pulled up beside me, I pulled hard to fight him off.
“Ryan and I are pretty good competitors. [...] Without him, I don’t think I’d be running this fast at conference.”
The Anteaters had a strong race on the relays, as the men’s team helped UCI become the only school in conference history to win the 4×400-meter relay four years in a row. Senior Dominic Jester ran the opening leg, with Jock running second, junior Chris Carson taking third, and Yowell finishing off as the anchor. The team finished with a time of 3:11.17.
The girls, junior KayC Wharton, Middleton, senior Kelly Collins and Nowell, broke the school record in the 4×400-meter relay which they set 16 days ago, finishing as runners-up with a time of 3:42.25.
Although the men did not perform well in the field events, the females had a decent showing. Freshman Itos Aikhionbare received third place in the shot put with a mark of 43 feet, 10.75 inches. Despite a sixth-place finish, freshman Jessica Imani broke the school record in the hammer throw with a toss of 165 feet, 2 inches.