FULLERTON, Calif. - Cal State Fullerton track and field will be represented at the NCAA Track and Field Championships on June 6-9 in Eugene, Ore. The men's 4x100-meter relay team is set to compete in the semifinal round of the event (heat two, lane two) on Wednesday at 4:32 p.m. PT. Should the team advance to the final, it will take place on Friday at 5:32 p.m. It is the first time since 2003 that the Titans have sent a men's short sprint relay team to the NCAA Championships. ESPN2 will broadcast the meet beginning at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday and at 5:30 p.m. on Friday. The meet will also be streamed on ESPN3.
By Bill Sheehan
Midway through this year's track and field season, things didn't look promising for the Cal State Fullerton men's 4x100-meter relay team.
Rasaun House was out of action with a strained right hamstring. Thaddeus Smith III was hindered by a chronically sore left hamstring. And the Titans' elite sprint relay team hadn't competed in several weeks.
The sprinters, however, never lost hope. They regrouped and, thanks to perseverance and hard work, finished with a strong kick.
The team of Luis Matos, Smith, House and Marcel Espinoza won the Big West 4x100-meter relay title in mid-May with a season best time of 40.20. Two weeks later, the quartet clocked a school-record 39.86 while finishing 10th at the NCAA West Preliminary. That effort qualified them for the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, to be held Wednesday through Saturday in Eugene, Oregon.
The 4x100 relay semifinal will be Wednesday, with three heats of eight teams. The top two teams from each heat plus the next two fastest squads will advance to Friday's final.
The relay team members are the first Titans to reach the NCAA championships since 2011, when Ciara Short finished fifth in the 400-meter final.
"It was exciting to see them qualify, but I have high expectations," said Fullerton assistant coach Marques Barosso. "We all expected the team would run that (under 40.0) time."
"I'm looking forward to the nationals and I expect us to be at our best – that's the exciting part," said Barosso, a 2008 Cal State Fullerton graduate who is in his fourth year coaching the Titan sprinters, hurdlers and relay teams. "The team hadn't been together. Now they have legs underneath them. We're going to shock a lot of people."
Barosso said he arranged his relay team to take advantage of each athlete's individual skills.
"Luis has the best start, so he's our leadoff man," said Barosso. "We put Thaddeus and Rasaun, our two fastest sprinters, in legs two and three so that they can either pull away or make up ground. And Marcel is a straightaway flying sprinter, and not many at this level will catch him."
The foursome is a divergent group. They range from a fifth-year senior to a true freshman and in height from 5 feet 5 inches to 6 feet 5 inches. But they are united in their effort to reach the 4x100 relay final. Here's a look at the sprinters who will be representing Fullerton at the University of Oregon's historic Hayward Field.
It took Luis Matos five years, but the redshirt senior has finally made it to the NCAA championships.
"It's a little surreal. It's exciting to know we qualified for nationals," said Matos, 23, who competed on Fullerton's 4x100 relay team in the NCAA West Preliminary the past two years. A dropped baton at the University of Texas ended the hopes of last year's team.
"When our season ended last year, I ended up watching the NCAA championships on TV," said Matos. "I got emotional and thought, 'Man, we should be there.' And now we will be there."
Matos, who arrived at Fullerton a year before Barosso's return to campus, said the coach has helped him develop as a sprinter. "Our relationship has really grown over the years," said Matos. "Once we got on the same level and the same page, we got results."
Barosso calls Matos "the Rock" of the Fullerton sprinters, saying that he performs well under pressure. "He always shows up when the lights are on," said Barosso, whose only criticism about Matos is that he is often too busy to eat.
As the leadoff leg, Matos said he feels some pressure. "It's scary and nerve-racking. A false start, a dropped baton, and the race is over," said Matos, who competed in the 100 (10.51), the 200 (21.32) and 400 (48.50) for the Titans.
Matos was born in Hartford, Conn., but was raised until age 11 in Peñuelas, Puerto Rico. In 2006, his family moved to Bakersfield.
"It was hard. I didn't know English and couldn't communicate," he said. "I was bullied and pushed around. But I tried to build on those experiences, and it's made me a more understanding person."
He graduated with a degree in public administration last month and works for AT&T. Matos would like to either attend law school or pursue a master's degree in public administration. He aspires to manage business-to-business transactions for a Fortune 500 company.
People are often surprised to learn basketball is a favorite pastime of the 5-foot-5 Matos. "Most people assume I can't play basketball because I am short, but I'm a pretty good player," he said. "I'm very competitive when I pick up a sport."
The Second Leg
Like Matos, Thaddeus Smith III is a veteran on the 4x100 team, and he takes pride in knowing the Titans have reached their longtime goal.
"I've been on the team with Luis for three years, and we have been chasing this for a while. It's really exhilarating just to know that we finally did it and we're going to the nationals," said the 6-foot-5 Smith. "We had a squad that was really focused, and everyone was ready to do it."
Smith, who ran track and played basketball at Damien High School in La Verne, has contended with a lingering left hamstring injury since high school.
The coaching staff has tried to keep him healthy by reducing his workouts and carefully placing him in the right meets, said Barosso, who praised team massage therapist "Wild Bill" Theriault for his work with Smith.
"I haven't been 100% healthy, but I've been healthy enough to run a fast time," said Smith. "I'm just waiting to put together a completely healthy season. Hopefully that is next year."
"My relationship with Coach Barosso gets stronger every year. I completely trust him. He knows what he is doing and got us this far."
Smith, 21, also competes in the 100- and 200-meters races, with personal best wind-legal times of 10.44 and 20.92. He was this year's Big West champion in the 100 meters but said the 200 meters is his favorite individual event.
"The 100 is too short, and the 400 is too long," said Smith. "The 200 is perfect. It is still really fast, but I have time to get going. It takes me a moment to really pick up my speed."
Smith, from Pasadena, is a communications major who is switching his emphasis from broadcasting to advertising. He wants run track professionally and is still contemplating what ultimate career path he will take.
The soft-spoken Smith is musically inclined and has played the violin, guitar, drums and saxophone. "Music is my second love," said Smith, who hopes to resume performing when his track career is completed.
The Third Leg
Rasaun House, a freshman from Perris, first strained his right hamstring in January and reinjured it in March. He was out for more than a month before rejoining his relay teammates on the track in late April.
"Even though I was out, it wasn't like we weren't close as a team," said House, a graduate of Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley. "We are like brothers and push each other. We have the connection with each other."
House also credited Theriault as well as athletic trainer Randy Harris for speeding up his recovery. "The training staff here is great. With their help, I'm getting better."
The 5-foot-11 sprinter, who has personal bests of 10.47 and 21.18 in the 100 and 200 meters, said it's the team concept that drives him. "Whatever I can do to help benefit the team is all that matters to me," said House.
Like most first-year students, House has experienced a learning curve. "Rasaun was coming in eating Pop-Tarts for breakfast," said Barosso. "We've been teaching him how to be elite. It's been an adjustment getting him to eat healthy, but he's doing a good job."
House ran four years of track and played football for three years in high school. He finished second in the 200 meters at the Big West championships and said that reaching the NCAA championships as a freshman will pay dividends.
"I've been watching the NCAA meet for six years, he said. "This will be a huge experience, and it will help me bring a winning attitude back to my team next year. Coach B is great at bringing out the best out in us."
The 19-year-old is pursuing a criminal justice degree and hopes to become a district attorney.
Some people have a security blanket. House has a security pillow, a present he received when he was born. "It's not something I sleep on, but it's something I always keep in my possession," said House of his good luck charm.
Marcel Espinoza brings home the baton, but he says the added pressure of running the anchor leg doesn't faze him.
"I don't feel any pressure. If each of us fulfill our job in passing the baton and finishing the race, there is no focus on added pressure," said Espinoza, 20, a sophomore from Santa Monica.
Espinoza likes to know how he will benefit from each exercise before he begins a workout. "Generally, I'm curious about things," he said. "When I know what we are here for and what we are doing, then I have a duty to fulfill it."
"Marcel is very technical. He requires a lot of explanation," said Barosso. "He truly wants to know about things, then he works that much harder."
The 5-foot-11 Espinoza predicts the Titans will need to finish with a high 38 or low 39 time to advance to the final.
"It's very motivating and inspiring to see all these other student-athletes putting everything into it, doing every little thing in their power to execute on the track."
The versatile Espinoza, who competes in the 100 (10.57), 200 (21.68) and 400 meters (46.90), has enjoyed seeing how the 4x100-meter relay team has evolved. "it's nice to look back and see how far we have come," said Espinoza.
Espinoza, 20, is interested in the dietary and hydration aspects of athletic training as well as techniques used to motivate people to get in shape.
A communication major with an advertising emphasis, he is interested in interior and exterior design. "I like looking at homes and see what I can do to make them look nice."
The Sprints Coach
Marques Borosso was an elite sprinter during his days as a student-athlete. He was the 2006 Big West champion in the 200 meters, and he moved into coaching after graduation.
"Marques has done a great job, said Titan head coach John Elders. "He was quite successful when he was part of our program as an athlete. He is a tireless recruiter and has brought a winning mindset to our sprint program."
"We envisioned that sprints and hurdles would be the anchor for our program when we hired Marques," said Elders, whose men's team won its second straight Big West title in May. "We knew this year's relay team could be good. These guys were very confident about their chances to advance to Eugene. It's really cool to see them put it together."
Channeling former UCLA basketball coaching great John Wooden, the even-keeled Barosso said that he "doesn't get too high about anything and doesn't get too low about much."
When hired four years ago, he pledged to try to bring out the greatness in his athletes. "I expect us to be the best in the nation. We have the facilities, the school funding and location to be a great sprinting-hurdling school."
Barosso said a trip to the championship race would be a great way to celebrate his 35th birthday on Thursday. "Hopefully, my birthday present is that we will make the finals."