By Mason Nesbitt, Sports Information Director
SANTA BARBARA — Justin Harris and Alec Franco evidently weren’t tired of chasing each other across the athletic complex at Westmont College.
The TMU athletes, who finished one-two in the 3,000-meter steeplechase Thursday, spent Friday hustling back and forth across the grassy infield, cheering on teammates Abigail Frankian and Rachelle Nelson as they pushed through the final, grueling portions of the 5,000.
Frankian won, Nelson finished second and Master’s demonstrated “team” the best way it could in such an individualized sport.
At one point, members of TMU’s men’s team swarmed Stephen Pacheco after he surged ahead to win the 5,000. As the afternoon waned, Tess Thompson, an all-conference finisher in the 400, described how being part of the 4×100 and 4×400 relays enhanced her senior year.
Both relays earned all-conference honors Friday.
“Being able to get closer with the girls, working with them on handoffs and stuff, that was really cool,” Thompson said. “That made the whole team stronger. Even everyone cheering us on (got) everyone involved.”
A small roar rose from the track when Mustang freshman Seanna Nalbandyan won the 400 hurdles in a photo finish. As Nalbandyan, the event’s top seed, neared the final hurdle, she noticed Westmont’s Emily Parks in her periphery. It pushed Nalbandyan to secure a PR and to nearly break the GSAC Championship meet record.
“I didn’t hear her coming up through the race,” said Nalbandyan, who finished in 1:01.74 —.08 ahead of Parks. “When I saw her, it kind of shocked me. But I was like, ‘I worked too hard this season to get second.'”
The women’s 5,000 wasn’t as close. Frankian and Nelson began pulling away midway through the race, finishing one-two in decisive fashion.
“I wasn’t sure how close (the pack was) because I could still hear people cheering for them,” said Frankian, who finished six seconds ahead of Nelson and 22 seconds before the third-place runner. “So I was like, ‘OK, we have to keep pushing through it.’ I dropped the pace a little bit again, and I could tell they weren’t very close.”
Frankian qualified for nationals in the 5K a week earlier at the Bryan Clay Invitational, displaying the mental fortitude one would expect from a senior who’d been to nationals three times.
Stephen Pacheco also qualified at Bryan Clay. He followed it up with a highly-tactical race at Westmont to clinch the conference title. He ran it in 15:51.55.
For Thompson, it was likely her final collegiate meet.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet,” said Thompson, who Schroeder largely credits for laying a strong foundation for TMU’s sprints program.
Kevin Pacheco, Stephen’s brother, looked like a sprinter over the final 170 meters of the 800. The freshman entered the weekend seeking a top three finish, and an all-conference honor, and he finally made his move — finishing third in a season-best 1:57.30.
“I realized I still had energy, so I went all out for this last part,” he said.
Nelson also earned all-conference honors in the 1,500.
A handful of Mustangs will compete at the Oxy Invite in Los Angeles on May 12 with hopes of qualifying for nationals.
NAIA nationals are on May 24-26 in Gulf Shores, Alabama.