The plan was simple. But it did not guarantee success.
What was guaranteed was that freshman Arianna Ghiorso (pictured above) would buy into her coach’s vision for Friday’s 1,500-meter race without question.
“Ari is the most coachable athlete I have ever worked with,” said TMU track and field head coach Zach Schroeder. “She never questions what she’s asked to do. She just does it.”
Ghiorso executed the strategy to perfection at the Bryan Clay Invitational in Azusa, California, Friday, patiently remaining behind the leaders for the first three laps. Then, at the bell, she made her move.
“Coach told me to relax in the top group of girls and then as soon as I hit that last lap to just blast as hard as I could,” Ghiorso said after winning her heat and finishing in a new personal best 4 minutes, 36.46 seconds.
The race was one of three previews Friday of what Mustang fans have to look forward to on April 26 and 27 at the Golden State Athletic Conference Championships at Westmont in Santa Barbara.
Ghiorso is expected to contend for the 1,500 and 800 titles in her first championship meet, while teammates Seanna Nalbandyan and Stephen Pacheco, both of whom had big performances at Bryan Clay, also may see their names at the top of the leaderboard.
Nalbandyan ran a season-best and narrowly missed reaching her lifetime best in the 400 hurdles Friday, finishing in 1:01.77, good for 11th place in a field flush with D1 talent.
Nalbandyan said the takeaway is how much she’s improved the start of her races. The Mustangs hired a hurdles coach this season to work with the 2018 NAIA All-American, and she’s seen improvement in the way she attacks the first barrier of each race.
“I’ve just been focusing on really getting to that first hurdle and not holding back during practice,” Nalbandyan said.
Pacheco raced well in the 5,000 Friday. Although his time (15:09.09) wasn’t a season-best, Schroeder was proud of the way Pacheco competed in “hot and somewhat windy conditions.”
“He raced his competition very well, moving up throughout the race, passing his competition and not being passed,” Schroeder said.
Pacheco’s season-best — 14:47.71, at a meet last month — is the best in the GSAC this year and was enough to hit the NAIA qualifying cut.
Last year, Pacheco upset Westmont star Michael Oldach in the 5K at conference finals to win his first individual GSAC title.
Nalbandyan’s mark Friday is the fastest of any GSAC athlete this year, and fifth best in the NAIA. Westmont’s Emily Parks, whom Nalbandyan edged for first place in last year’s conference final, is second — .49 behind Nalbandyan.
“It’s going to be a close one,” Nalbandyan said of this year’s conference finals. “I’m sure we are both going to fight for it.”
Ghiorso’s times in the 800 and 1,500 are both the fastest in the GSAC to this point. A crucial piece of Friday’s 1,500 — which hit the NAIA’s “A” qualifying standard for nationals and is the nation’s seventh fastest mark this season — was the way she finished the race, something she practiced while running the 800 at Pomona-Pitzer’s meet earlier this month.
“I was excited to find that new gear,” Ghiorso said. “In the past, I haven’t been able to push past the point of racing hard vs. all-out speed and last night was the first time I felt like I was able to overcome that.”
TMU freshman Isaac Ventura ran a new lifetime best in the 800 Friday, dipping under 1:56 for the first time.
— Top photo by Jacob Velarde.