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Track & Field

Big West Conference Announces Track & Field Athlete of the Year Awards


The top two team finishes at the 2006 Big West Championships, on both the men's and women's teams, swept this year's annual awards. On the men's side Cal Poly's Luke Llamas and Joe Gatel, grabbed the Big West Male Track Athlete of the Year and Freshman of the Year honors, respectively, while Long Beach State's Chris Richardson received Big West Male Field Athlete of the Year and Andy Sythe was crowned the Men's Coach of the Year.

For the women, host and women's champion Cal State Northridge nabbed three of the four female awards and UC Santa Barbara's Stephanie Rothstein walked away with the Big West Female Track Athlete of the Year. Matador LaShanna Verdon earned Big West's Female Field Athlete of the Year honors and teammate Jere's Summers was awarded the Female Freshman of the Year title. CSUN head coach Don Strametz added another accolade to his extensive coaching resume - 2006 Big West Women's Coach of the Year. Last year he received the same honor, but for the men's team.

Mustang Luke Llamas (Canyon Country, Calif.) has dominated in the distance events throughout the season, earning him Big West Male Track Athlete of the Year. At the conference meet, he won the Big West title in the 3,000 meter steeplechase and with a time of 14:45.39, Llamas also won the 5,000 meters. Earlier in the meet he posted a regional qualifying mark of 9:03.07 in the 3,000 meter steeplechase to nab the first place spot. Along with the steeplechase, he also has regional marks in the 1,500 and 5,000 meters.

Big West's Male Field Athlete of the Year, Chris Richardson, is ranked 14th in the world and sixth nationally in the decathlon with a Long Beach State school-record mark of 7,605. The Downey, Calif., native won the Big West Championship decathlon event with a regional-qualify mark of 7,194. Along with the decathlon, he also scored points at the conference meet in the long jump. In 2006, he was named Big West Athlete of the Week twice and is a member of the 49ers' menís team that claimed its first Big West title in 30 years.

Cal Poly's Joe Gatel received the men's freshman of the year award for his accomplishments in the middle distance events. The Huntington Beach, Calif., native posted a seventh place finish at the Big West Championships with a time of 3:54.20 in the 1,500 meters. Earlier in the season he ran a regional-qualifying mark of 3:46.92. Gatel was the only freshman to earn Big West Male Track Athlete of the Week honors this season.

UC Santa Barbara distance runner Stephanie Rothstein won five meet events this season, including her successful attempts of defending both of the Big West titles in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. Earlier this season the Phoenix, Ariz., native shattered the conference's 10,000 meter record by over 20 seconds with a time of 33:27.85, while setting a new school record by over a minute and a half. The Gaucho is currently ranked third in West Region in the 10,000 meters and 18th in the 5,000 meters.

During the 2006 season the Big West Female Field Athlete of the Year, LaShanna Verdon, was successful in a multitude of events, including a personal-best mark of 5,125 in the heptathlon. Hailing from Pomona, Calif., she scored 28 points at the Big West Championship, which included a first place finish in the heptathlon with 4,960 points. Verdon added two more top-three finishes at the conference meet with a second place time of 60.86 in the 400 hurdles and was a member of the 4X400 relay that posted a third place finish. Other events she helped the Matadors earn points towards the conference title were long jump (4th), high jump (7th) and triple jump (6th).

Women's Freshman of the Year was awarded to Cal State Northridge's Jere' Summers for her efforts in the field events. The Pomona, Calif., native was crowned Big West shot put champion last week, which contributed to her 20 points scored at the meet. She also placed third in the discus and fifth in the hammer throw. Summers is currently ranked sixth in the shot put in the Western Region and 13th in the discus.

Long Beach State's Andy Sythe received the nod for Big West Men's Track & Field Coach of the Year, while Cal State Northridge's Don Strametz earned the honor for Women's Track & Field Coach of the Year. Sythe, in his 17th year at LBSU, guided the 49ers' men's squad to their first Big West title in 30 years, fourth overall. In the process, Long Beach State scored 195.50 points to set a school record. Currently in his 26th season with the Matador women's team, Strametz lifted Cal State Northridge to its third Big West title in the last five years. This is Strametz third honor on the women's side and his fifth overall.