By Mason Nesbitt
For The Signal
The Master’s University track team’s most prominent athlete this season has been a dynamic freshman hurdler from Canyon High. And that doesn’t figure to change this week as the Mustangs travel to the NAIA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Alabama.
Seanna Nalbandyan enters nationals, which start Thursday and run through Saturday, with the NAIA’s fourth-fastest time in the 400-meter hurdles (1 minute, 1.66 seconds).
“This tough competitor has been focused on chasing down a top spot in the NAIA all year,” TMU coach Zach Schroeder said of Nalbandyan, whose prelim will take place Thursday afternoon. “I think she has a great chance to earn All-American honors.”
Master’s will also send seniors Abigail Frankian (Saugus High grad) and Alec Franco to Gulf Shores, Alabama, along with sophomore Stephen Pacheco.
Frankian and Pacheco will each run the 5,000. And on the girls side, Frankian finds herself in an enviable position. She is ranked 13th in the event, but with only 14 total runners and no prelims, Schroeder feels she is poised to move up and claim her first All-American honor, which goes to the top eight in each race.
“I am extremely excited about the setup for Abigail,” Schroeder said. “… She’s a veteran with the conditions in Alabama and knows how to race big when it counts. Not racing the prelim will strengthen her chances of claiming an All-American spot. I believe she’s capable of this type of showing, and I’m really hoping she has a great last race as a Mustang.”
Pacheco’s path is less straightforward. The sophomore from Palmdale must navigate a field that should be controlled by the top seeds, John Gay and Kieran Lumb, both from The University of British Columbia.
Schroeder believes those two will conserve energy in prelims (because they’re also running other events) and rely on superior leg speed to carry them through to the finals. Other runners, Schroeder said, won’t necessarily be inclined to pull away from the duo, however, making it a tricky road for someone ranked 19th out of 25 like Pacheco.
Schroeder said Pacheco will have to race tactically if he’s to be in the top 16 and advance to the final.
That style of racing hasn’t necessarily been the MO for Pacheco, but he did execute a race plan with precision at the Golden State Athletic Conference Championship late last month, beating favorite Michael Oldach from Westmont College.
The 5K prelims are slated for Friday evening.
“I believe Stephen is ready for a great race that will advance him to the final on Saturday,” Schroeder said.
As for Franco? The senior enters the marathon on Saturday as the 52nd ranked athlete out of 61, but Schroeder doesn’t believe the number accurately depicts Franco’s hopes of a high finish.
“He is sort of a dark horse,” Schroeder said.
“His All-American finish in the steeplechase last year proves he can race well in the humid heat of Alabama,” the coach said. “I’m looking at the front guys in the marathon, and they haven’t had the type of success Alec has had at the national level. I believe he could turn some heads if everything goes well.”
For updates on how the Mustangs fare in Alabama, along with more info on TMU Athletics, follow us on Twitter and Instagram: @TMUAthletics. Or visit, GoMustangs.com.