By Mason Nesbitt
For The Signal
Two years ago, Master’s track and field coach Zach Schroeder received a call from Canyon High distance coach Dave DeLong.
“You want this girl,” DeLong assured Schroeder.
It was not the first time the two Santa Clarita Valley coaches had spoken, and generally when DeLong recommended an athlete, that athlete rose to the top of Schroeder’s list of recruits.
Seanna Nalbandyan was not an exception.
“It was really what DeLong had to say about her that sold us,” says Schroeder, who previously worked with DeLong to recruit Anthony Pizzo, a future NAIA All-American, from Canyon to Master’s. “Dave is someone who’s such a good judge of character and he loves the athletes he works with and wants the best for them. He only directs kids our way if they’re really the right fit for our program.”
It’s hard to argue Nalbandyan hasn’t been a near perfect fit as she prepares to compete at NAIA nationals in Alabama on Thursday. The sophomore, well-liked by teammates and coaches, is seeking to become the first Mustang to win NAIA All-American honors in consecutive seasons since Saugus grad Karis Frankian did it four straight years from 2013-2016.
“Seanna is such a sweet, kind and godly friend,” says TMU freshman Arianna Ghiorso. “But don’t let that fool you. When it comes to our sport, she is one of the fiercest competitors I know. Her commitment and passion are inspiring.”
Nalbandyan will enter nationals with the eighth fastest time in the NAIA this year in the 400-meter hurdles (1 minute, 1.77 seconds). Her collegiate best is 1:01.66, a mark she hit last year before going on to finish seventh at nationals, securing a spot as an All-American.
She’s aiming for a higher finish this time around in an event she began running as a sophomore at Canyon.
The transition wasn’t premeditated.
“I had just finished racing the open 400,” Nalbandyan says, recalling a 2015 meet, “and my coach came up to me and asked me to run in the 300 hurdles because they didn’t have any girls and didn’t want to lose points. He said since I was in the 400 then it should be easy for me and that I didn’t have to run fast. I just needed to score some points. They threw me in, and that’s how I got into hurdles.”
Nalbandyan enjoyed competing in the more varied race, the barriers providing a break from simply running.
She was physically suited to the hurdles, blessed with good leg speed and above-average height. And she plied an excellent work ethic to improving her form, beginning to train year-round in the event.
“By her senior year, she was a much better technician, hurdle wise,” DeLong says.
She was also a force to be reckoned with in the highly-competitive Foothill League.
“She was so strong. She could run the 800, 400, 200, both relays and both hurdles,” DeLong says. “She won our MVP senior year and whatever race we put her in, she won.”
At TMU, Nalbandyan narrowed her focus mainly to the 400 hurdles, a race she’s always hungry to learn more about.
“She really wants all the input that she could possibly get,” Schroeder says.
That is, in part, why this year Schroeder hired Micheal Wellington, a hurdler at Cal State Northridge in the early 2000s and a USA Track & Field Level 2 certified coach.
Wellington was tasked with complementing TMU sprints coach Denean Hill’s instruction with hurdle-specific training. He has helped Nalbandyan clear barriers more efficiently when leading with her non-dominant leg and given her a new weight-room routine, incorporating deadlifts and single-leg lunges.
Nalbandyan will take that training into what Schroeder believes is a more competitive field at nationals this year. Seven athletes are within less than a second of each other.
“Half a second better, maybe she’s top three,” Schroeder says. “Half a second worse, maybe she misses the final.”
Regardless, Schroeder believes there may be a national title in Nalbandyan’s future, even if it doesn’t come this year, and he knows she’s already making an impact on her teammates, much the way she did at Canyon.
“We loved her and we miss her terribly,” DeLong says. “It’s hard to find kids like that who are the whole package and really don’t have any weakness as far as being a teammate.”
Nalbandyan will run in the prelims on Thursday in Gulf Shores, Alabama, with the final scheduled for Saturday.
Ghiorso, Stephen Pacheco, Justin Harris, Wesley Methum and a men’s 4×800 relay will also be representing TMU.
For updates, visit GoMustangs.com.