Abrianna Torres will never forget the first time she competed at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.
“It was the biggest crowd I’d ever seen,” the San Luis Obispo High graduate recalled about junior nationals four years ago. “The stadium was absolutely packed on both sides. It was a great atmosphere to compete in.”
Now a junior at Colorado, Torres will return to what is widely considered the Mecca of American track and field as one of three San Luis Obispo County-raised college athletes for this week’s NCAA Championships.
“I’m about as nervous as anyone would be, but I’m ready to perform,” said Torres, who qualified for nationals for the first time in the heptathlon. “I’m ranked 21 out of 24 athletes, but I think I have the ability to surprise.”
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Joining Torres in the Pacific Northwest will be Madison Jacobs, a Kentucky sophomore by way of Arroyo Grande, and Savannah Camacho, a former Templeton running standout in her third year (second in eligibility) at Oklahoma State.
"It's just so much more competitive here, so every race is all out," said Camacho, who will run in the 800. "I just can't get intimidated by other people's (personal best). Once the gun goes off, it's anyone's race. I just have to give it my all and hope for the best."
Jacobs is the only one in the group who’s been to the outdoor championships before, having finished 15th in the discus as a true freshman last year.
She qualified 12th this year with a throw of 177 feet, 5 inches at the East prelims but has her sights set on a top-five finish.
“The first time you go to any competition like that, it’s not overwhelming but it was a little scary, honestly,” said Jacobs, the CIF state runner-up in the discus in 2012. “I was disappointed with how I did at nationals, but I’m a lot more comfortable now knowing how it goes and not being a rookie.”
Jacobs, whose brother Seth enjoyed a breakout year at linebacker for Oklahoma State this past fall, said she relied on FaceTime and other technology to help her work through the homesickness that came with moving 2,300 miles from home.
Success helped, too, as she was a second team All-American her first year in Lexington, a town Jacobs said supports more than just the iconic basketball team.
“There’s a lot of energy from basketball,” she said, “but the city supports everyone. The basketball team, the golf team, the rifle team; everyone is important, and that makes it a lot of fun.”
Camacho also qualified 12th in her event after running a time of 2 minutes, 9.31 seconds at the West prelims. Her personal best of 2:02.84 came at the Mt. SAC Relays as a freshman, and she took second at the 2014 NCAA indoor championships with a 2:05.53.
Camacho will run in the semifinals Thursday with hopes of making the finals Saturday, while Jacobs and the women’s discus will run only Saturday.
"The prelim is going to be really fast," Camacho said. "Four girls in my heat have all placed in the national championships, including myself, and only the top two in each heat plus the next-fastest two go on.
"I was a little freaked out at first, now I'm just thinking that I know it will be fast and I have to be prepared for."
Torres’ heptathlon begins Wednesday with the 100 hurdles, the high jump, the shot put and the 200, followed by the final three events — long jump, javelin and 800 — Thursday.
Torres said the multitude of events offer several opportunities to climb the leaderboard, so she’s learned to have a short memory during competition.
“That’s the beauty of the heptathlon,” she said. “At Mt. SAC, I had a horrible shot put and I thought it was over, but then I did pretty good in the other events and was right there.”
Eugene is known for its rich track and field history, but the area also comes with a rainy reputation that could put a damper on events such as the discus and heptathlon.
Even though forecasts call for clear skies and 80-degree temperatures, Jacobs said she has been preparing for all kinds of weather and will be ready to let it fly.
“Honestly, I’m not thinking about where I’m ranked,” she said. “I’m able to see myself doing a lot better than 12th, and a lot can change in a competition. People can choke or not do their best. I’m confident, and I’m going to give it my all.”