Thanks to her big toe and a lot of convincing the right people, Whitney Sisler could have one more chance to make sure her previous trip to the NCAA Track and Field Championships won’t be her lasting memory.
As a junior, the Cal Poly athlete made it to the national finals in the women’s high jump. Sisler was looking to follow in the footsteps of former teammate and national champion Sharon Day, who blazed the two-way soccer-track trail that Sisler followed.
But in the 2010 finals, Sisler was dealt an unfortunate hand in stormy Eugene, Ore.
Sisler and four others in the field of 24 competitors had to make their first two attempts in the rain before the event was halted. It gave Sisler a competitive disadvantage when the rest of the athletes were able to take all of their attempts in dryer weather.
And it’s still a memory fresh in her mind.
“That was one of the most surreal jumping experiences in my life,” Sisler said. “I felt like I didn’t have any control over what was going on. A real opportunity was taken away from me that year to get my All-American status.”
In a twist of fate, another opportunity was given back.
Before the season, Sisler’s appeal for a medical redshirt was granted.
Originally denied an extra year for the broken toe she suffered as a freshman, Sisler wrote a personal letter to the NCAA, and the Mustangs training staff put together a comprehensive report of her injury, the result of a practice accident where heavy equipment dropped on Sisler’s foot.
Sisler leads a group of 10 Cal Poly men and women who will be competing at this week’s NCAA West Regional in Austin, Texas, the qualifier for the national championships in Des Moines, Iowa, the first week of June.
Sisler’s best mark of the season is 5 feet, 10 3-4 inches, which has her tied for 12th going into the start of today’s West Regional. Her collegiate best came two yeas ago, when she cleared 6 feet.
Sisler is hoping to better that, become one of the top 12 regional placers to advance to the national meet and perhaps even beat the U.S. Olympic Trials B standard of 6-0 1-2.
She might not be in the same world class as Day, a 2008 Olympian, but a similar style of athlete, Sisler has nearly mimicked the training of her predecessor.
Both former leading scorers for the Cal Poly women’s soccer team, Sisler began training for the heptathlon in her final season of collegiate eligibility just like Day.
Sisler placed sixth in the heptathlon at the Big West Championships, where she also won the individual women’s long jump with a personal best 19-6 3-4.
This year was the first time Sisler had competed in anything other than the high jump, but she said the other events have helped here in the high jump.
“I’m used to doing soccer and track at the same time,” said Sisler, who ended her soccer eligibility in the 2010 season. “I felt like I just needed to do more things so I wouldn’t obsess over high jump as much. I just needed to focus on a bunch of things so I would feel comfortable.”
Sisler will be joined by teammate Leanne Fogg, who is shrugging off a midseason injury to run as the No. 16 qualifier in the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase. Fogg, who set the Cal Poly record in 10 minutes, 17.27 seconds last year, had her best time of the season in 10:18.65 at the Stanford Invitational on April 6.
Vanessa Hancock will run the 1,500 as the No. 30 qualifier. Her personal best, 4:24.32, also came at Stanford.
For the men, junior Derek Thomas qualified 13th in the 1,500 with a personal best of 3:43.44 set at Big West Championships.
Senior Eric Suprenant qualified 36th in the 400 hurdles in 51.93 seconds. Sophomore Chris Frias qualified in the 10,0000 in 29:44.14. Senior Daniel Erdman qualified in the shot put with a mark of 57-0 1-4. Sophomore Jamison Jordan qualified for the 100 in 10.56.
The Mustangs also have two legitimate contenders in the pole vault.
Senior Kyle Inks and junior John Prader are each ranked in the top 15 in the West Regional.
Inks cleared 17-8 1-2 in a dual meet with UC Santa Barbara in April, and Prader cleared 17-6 1-2 while winning at the Big West Championships.
Cal Poly head track and field coordinator Mark Conover said it’s been rare lately for the Mustangs to have a strong 1-2 punch in the pole vault although vaulters played significant roles in Cal Poly’s 12 Division II national titles, which were split evenly by the men and women before the programs moved up to Division I in 1994.
“When you go back to the strong Division II days of Cal Poly, pole vault was always a big event,” Conover said. “So, they’ve really upheld that tradition.”