Keeping pace with the best

Keeping pace with the best

Cal State L.A.’s track and field programs sustain a history of excellence

Giorgio Bryant is third in the nation in the NCAA Division II for the long jump and a competitive sprinter.Josh Como holds the nation's top mark for the NCAA Division II triple jump.Women's shot putter Na’i Leni has the highest mark for her division and is also fourth in the discus.Julius Joseph recently took home first-place prizes in the shot put and discus at the Division II California Collegiate Conference.Martiza Hernandez won first place in the 10,000 meters at the Division II California Collegiate Conference.Jordan Tyler was named the first-place winner in the men's pole vault at the Division II California Collegiate Conference.
Photos courtesy of Kirby Lee and Darryl Dennis.

When it comes to sustaining track and field excellence, it’s hard to top Cal State L.A.’s well-respected men’s and women’s track and field programs.

Both programs, ranked among the top 20 nationally in the NCAA Division II, have produced a combined 71 individual champions. At least one Golden Eagle track and field athlete has competed in 13 of the last 16 Summer Olympic Games, and 23 team members—representing 10 nations—have qualified for 52 Olympic events, capturing 15 medals (six gold, eight silver and one bronze).

2011 California Collegiate Conference Highlights

2nd place team conference finish
1st place men’s 100 & 200: Giorgio Bryant
1st place long jump: Giorgio Bryant
1st place shot put: Julius Joseph
1st place discus: Julius Joseph
1st place triple jump: Josh Como
2nd place long jump: Josh Como
1st place men’s pole vault: Jordan Tyler

With nine conference titles, the men recorded their second runner-up finish in the past four years.

3rd place team conference finish
1st place shot put: Na’i Leni
1st place discus: Na’i Leni
1st place 10,000 meters: Maritza Hernandez

In seven of the past eight years, women have ranked among the top three in the conference meet.

“I knew when I came here that this was a program with a rich history and I thought we needed to get the ball rolling again,” said Christopher Asher, now in his ninth year as the head coach of the men’s and women’s outdoor track and field, women’s indoor track and field and women’s cross country teams. “With the help of good assistant coaches we’ve been able to recruit some top athletes.”

In the last three years, in fact, the Golden Eagles men’s outdoor track and field team has recorded two top-seven national finishes, and they are on pace again this season to possibly repeat the feat. At the California Collegiate Athletic Association Championship in early May, the men’s and women’s teams combined to win 10 individual conference titles.

Among leading competitors are men’s triple jumper Josh Como and women’s shot putter Na’i Leni, both of whom hold the country’s top marks in their best events. Giorgio Bryant is also third in the nation in the long jump, followed closely by Como, who is sixth. Leni is also fourth in the women’s discus, and Julius Joseph holds the seventh spot in the men’s discus. All are assured of competing in the 2011 NCAA Division II championships. As TODAY went to press, Giorgio Bryant became the NCAA Div. II champion for the long jump, leaping 26-1.50

“I am glad that I came to Cal State L.A. It’s been a great experience, having fun with my teammates and benefitting from the one-on-one attention from the coaches. I’ve really enjoyed it because of my teammates and coaches,” Como said. “It’s been a growing experience for me. Athletics carries over into your life; you are learning to work toward your goals in life. I’m not just an athlete, I’m diverse and strive to excel in other areas as well.”

The Golden Eagles have established a reputation for being fierce national competitors over many years. In the 2008 indoor season, Omonike Kotey won an individual championship title in the women’s triple jump. In 2010, Damein White was national runner-up in the 100 and 200, following a similar finish in 2009 in the 200 event. And before that, CSULA had national runner-ups in the 2007 men’s long jump (Kevin Finney), 2005 and 2006 men’s high jump (Eugene Hutchinson) and 2006 women’s long jump (Keara Norton).

Cal State L.A. has also increased its profile by hosting three big meets in 2011, with three more to come in 2012, including the conference championships for a third time during Asher’s tenure. Having meets on campus, he said, has helped “establish an identity” for the program. It gets your name out there nationally… and helps your recruiting.