By Jay Dresser
Coming off an impressive performance last weekend at UCLA, the men”s track and field distance squad is set to return to Southern California for the most important meet of the regular season.
The Cougars will be competing in the Mount Sac Relays in Walnut, Calif., where the best distance runners in the nation will gather in an attempt to qualify for the NCAA meet in May.
“Mount Sac is a good meet because the competition is great,” assistant coach Ed Eyestone said. “Literally, the best distance runners from around the country will be there. There will probably be no wind, it will be cool and humidity will be low. When you put all those elements together, it translates into some good times.”
BYU will be led by senior all-American Mao Tjiroze. After his performance last week, Tjiroze was selected as the Mountain West Conference outdoor track and field athlete of the week.
Tjiroze won the 800-meters at the UCLA Triangular meet last week with a season best 1:48.52. His time is currently the seventh fastest in the nation this season. It is also the best time in the Mountain West Conference by nearly two seconds.
“Hopefully Mao will have some strong competition at Mount Sac because that”s his only problem right now,” Eyestone said. “He needs competition that will push him to run that low 1:58 or high 1:57, which would be necessary for him to get into the NCAA meet.”
Head coach Mark Robison said running in a fast heat is crucial for Tjiroze and his teammates to perform well and get good times.
“He could get in a heat where he is the fastest guy by two seconds,” Robison said. “In that case, he would have to get a good time by running the race in front wire to wire, and that is a difficult thing to do.”
Tyler Bushnell is the only other distance runner with a provisional mark. Both Bushnell and his coaches agree that his time will need to improve in order for him to have a legitimate chance to make it into the national meet.
I”m hoping Bushnell will lower his provisional mark,” Eyestone said. “He”ll need to drop another five seconds to either automatically qualify or be low enough provisionally to get himself into the steeplechase.”
The Mount Sac Relays will be an important meet for several other Cougars as well.
Both Chad Simkins and Jeff Hopkinson have been flirting with a provisional time in the 800-meters. For Simkins, who missed the indoor season due to injury, the Mount Sac Relays will be the biggest meet of the season thus far.
“There”s a lot of pressure,” Simkins said. “This is my first really big meet, and it”s kind of scary. I just want to be aggressive enough to get out fast and be there at the end when its time to finish the race.”