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College track and field: The running men

Three locals are bringing more renown to their programs

Posted: March 26, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 26, 2012 1:55 a.m.

The Master’s College’s Anthony Pizzo, left, and John Gilbertson, right, have already qualified for NAIA nationals in three different events, while College of the Canyons’ Chris Low, center, is chasing a UCLA scholarship in the 800.

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The Santa Clarita Valley is renowned for its prowess in prep track and field.

People might want to start paying attention to the local college programs, too.

Runners from The Master’s College and College of the Canyons were front and center on March 16. Specifically, Canyon High graduates Anthony Pizzo and Chris Low and Saugus native John Gilbertson.

At the Oxy Distance Carnival at Occidental, Pizzo and Gilbertson both hit national championship qualifying times in the 1,500-meter race, the third different event in which each has qualified for nationals already.

Around the same time and about 24 miles away, Low was racing in the 800 for COC at the Cal Relays at Cerritos College. Not only did he win, he recorded this season’s fastest collegiate 800 time in the nation — including NCAA Division I.

Three accomplishments, all within the same day. All with a bigger story in the background.

All signals of how well college track and field is coming along in the area.


The previous school record in the 1,500 at The Master’s College was 3 minutes, 56 seconds. By the end of the 1,500 at the Oxy Distance Carnival, that record had been re-written twice.

Pizzo ran the race in 3:53.19, while Gilbertson finished just behind him at 3:54. Both times were under 3:55, which is the ‘A’ standard to qualify for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics National Championships.

“We have a great training regimen, and we believe in that, and we believe our coaching,” Pizzo says. “We’re experienced in this. We’ve been through it all before. We know how to race. It just clicked.”

It’s been clicking a lot for Pizzo and Gilbertson lately.

On Feb. 5 at the Surf City Half Marathon in Huntington Beach, Gilbertson ran the half marathon in 1 hour, 9 minutes, while Pizzo finished in 1:12.06. Both those times beat the ‘A’ standard for nationals of 1:14.00, but since the race isn’t run at nationals, the two runners qualified for the marathon instead.

On March 10 at the Ben Brown Invitational at Cal State Fullerton, Pizzo ran the 5,000 in 14:10.64 and Gilbertson finished in 14:11.96. Both times hit the ‘A’ standard of 14:45.00 for nationals.

Outdoor track season is only a couple of weeks old, and yet Pizzo and Gilbertson have already qualified for nationals in three different events.

Moreover, their times in the 5,000 are the top two NAIA times in the country, and they’re second and third in the 1,500, respectively.

But don’t think that means they’ll lose their edge.

“It’s just something that I feel is kind of expected of me,” Gilbertson says. “I feel like this is a good way for us to be leading our team.”

Both runners stress their desire to help as many of their teammates qualify for nationals as possible. Each went to nationals last season in the 5,000, with Pizzo finishing fourth and Gilbertson finishing 11th.

Then, they built off that success by leading the cross country team back to nationals, where TMC finished 10th as a team and Gilbertson and Pizzo both finished top five individually.

Pizzo and Gilbertson hope their example pushes their fellow Mustangs to join them from May 24-26 in Marion, Ind., the site of nationals.

“That is really the magic pill that I’m praying the rest of the team takes and catches onto that fire,” says TMC head coach Zach Schroeder. “The one thing is you can’t force others to have a championship mentality. You can’t force people toward greatness. I would say it’s easier to discover that when you have leaders who are modeling that.”

As excited as they were to qualify for nationals, there’s another goal out there for Pizzo and Gilbertson. Schroeder submitted both of them to the Stanford Invitational, a prestigious collegiate meet that will take place on April 7.

Athletes from all across the country and across all divisions will compete, and they’re also trying to qualify for the Mt. San Antonio College Relays, which will take place April 19-21.

If they race like they did on March 16, anything’s possible. Not only were Pizzo and Gilbertson at a good point in their training regimen, the conditions were ideal for fast times in the 1,500.

At least that’s what the forecast said.

“To me, a race is a race,” Gilbertson says. “It doesn’t matter what conditions it’s in. I’m not going to make any excuses.”

At that same Oxy Distance Carnival meet, Occidental’s Cole Williams ran the 800 in 1:50.31. It was an impressive result that’s close to the fastest time in the nation this season.

Close, but not quite. He can thank Low for that.


By the slimmest of margins, Low owns the nation’s fastest collegiate time in the 800 this season.

At the Cal Relays, he ran the race in 1:50.30, which is .01 seconds faster than Williams. As it stands, he’s about a second and a quarter behind Hart High graduate Chuck Kirkby for the Santa Clarita Valley record, which Kirkby set at 1:49.06 in 1955 while at Mt. San Antonio College.

But Low has something bigger than all of that on his mind — a time of 1:48, which would land him a scholarship to UCLA.
“That’s what they want, in order for scholarship purposes,” says Low, who’s already met the 1,500 qualifying time of 3:55.

Low’s 800 time is encouraging, considering it was the first time this season that he ran the race fresh. He’s also run the 1,500 at meets this spring, in part to score points for the team and in part to build up endurance so he can go faster in the 800.

When he stepped to the starting line at the Cal Relays, Low was rested and ready to go.

“I knew going into it that I had to take it out hard, because previously I’d been taking it out a little slower and trying to come back,” he says. “(Head coach Lindie Kane) said I needed to take it out faster.”

He did just that, running the first lap in 53 seconds and fending off the field from there. Compton’s Torion Bailey finished a little less than a second behind him, but he was never really a threat to overtake Low on the last lap.

“He did exactly what we had planned,” Kane says. “He’s running with so much more confidence this year. He’s got a great base going.”

Low won the state championship in the 800 last season, and this season, he’s working toward defending his title and making it to UCLA.

Low is also shooting to qualify for the Stanford Invitational, and he’s hoping to lead the COC men’s team to a Western State Conference title.

The Cougars have already won the WSC North meet on March 9 in Ventura, and they boast other top athletes in addition to Low.

Kane says that’s another important element to Low’s success. What’s good for him is good for the program.

“It really puts it in perspective as far as, wow, that’s fast,” she says. “It’s great for College of the Canyons. (The training) comes full circle and it pays off for you. He does exactly what’s expected and goes out and performs.”

You can certainly say that about Low. You can say the same thing about Pizzo and Gilbertson at The Master’s College.

Or you could say nothing at all. The fact is, what the local college programs and their athletes are doing speaks loud and clear.



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