Michael Oldach was having a bad hair month, not to mention a scruffy start to Westmont College’s cross country season.
The NAIA All-American, who got a “really bad mullet” haircut to honor a promise he made to three track teammates, also cut his day short in the Warriors’ season-opening meet on Sept. 14.
“A lot of things had been going on in my life emotionally,” Oldach said. “I was dealing with my grandmother passing away during the summer.
“There was also the frustration which was left over from the end of last track season when I was dealing with an injury and the disappointment over where the team was at.”
And so he came to a complete stop just two miles into the UC Riverside Invitational.
Coach Russell Smelley described it as a “debilitating case of senioritis.”
“Which is, ‘I thought I’d be smarter by now, I thought I’d be faster by now, and I thought I’d look good in a mullet…” Smelley said.
Oldach’s thoughts hadn’t brightened by the middle of last week as he was training for Saturday’s The Master’s Invitational, and so Smelley took him aside for a reboot – in his backside.
“He’d gone back to his goal card, which is to break 25 minutes (in an 8K), and he put down, ‘Just finish,’” Smelley revealed during Monday’s Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table press luncheon. “The hardest thing in running is to persist when you feel like you can’t go on.
“It’s a mental choice. Michael had to mentally choose to give up that view.”
Smelley not only got Oldach running again, he got him winning again. The senior from Colorado Springs, the eighth-place finisher at last year’s NAIA Cross Country Championships, broke the course record at Santa Clarita’s Central Park on Saturday with a time of 24:51.8. He finished a few seconds ahead of both UCLA’s Andrew Ehrenberg and Darius Riley.
The victory earned him the Round Table’s Male Athlete of the Week Award, which was presented on Monday at Harry’s Plaza Café.
“Coach has been instrumental in helping me deal with some things in my life,” said Oldach, an honors student in kinesiology. “He sat me down a few years ago and told me, ‘I want you to know me, and I want to know you.’
“He’s always had time for me and has given me the feeling that I can talk to him about anything. It’s definitely a collaboration.”
Smelley spoke up again late in Saturday’s race after Oldach had moved up from 25th place after one mile, to 15th place after three miles, to near the front just one mile later.
“When he comes by at four miles he’s even up with the leaders, the two UCLA runners,” the veteran coach said. “With 500 meters to go, I said, ‘It’s time to go now!’
“And he walked away from them over the last 300 meters and set the course record.”
Battling the Bruins did give Oldach an adrenaline boost down the stretch.
“I have such respect for UCLA as a program,” he said. “Those were probably their No. 5 and 6 guys … but it helped me find another level, especially over the last 1,000 meters.”
As a sophomore, Oldach finished as the runner-up in the 1500 meters at the NAIA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Illness and a stress reaction in his heel dashed his hopes of a national championship last year, although he still repeated as an All-American with a fifth-place finish.
But his hair had also become an issue.
“I had started growing it out last winter, randomly, and it had gotten pretty long by the Outdoor Nationals in May,” Oldach said.
He had promised the teammates who lived across the hall – Pieter Top, Jackson Nemitz, and Marcus Alvarez – that he’d get a haircut.
“They twisted my arm until I told them that I’d eventually cut it down to a mullet,” Oldach said. “And I am a man of my word.”
And a man who’s open to a few from his coach, as well.
LUNCHEON COLLEGE NOTES: SBCC’s only points in a 12-3 football loss at highly ranked Citrus came in a field goal from Lucas Eilbacher, a Dos Pueblos High graduate who never kicked for the Chargers. It was his third field goal in four games for the Vaqueros.
“Well, he’s kicking for us now … He is outstanding,” coach Craig Moropoulos said of his 6-foot-1 freshman. “He got our only points, kicked a great field goal, and kicked it through the end zone a couple of times on kickoffs.
“Besides that, he found his way to the head coach’s heart: chocolate-covered croissants. Do you know where D’Angelo’s Bakery is downtown? His family owns that.”
UCSB’s women’s volleyball team (13-1), which received five votes in last week’s AVCA National Poll, increased its total to 27 in this week’s poll. It still leaves them outside the top 25 at No. 31.
Assistant coach Chad Gatzlaff said the Gauchos had some real high numbers in last week’s victories over Cal State Northridge, UC Irvine, and Cal State Fullerton to open Big West Conference play:
“We hit over .300 as a team in all three of those matches, led by Rowan Ennis who hit .488,” he said. “Talulah Froley hit .381, both Ruddins sisters, Lindsey and Gigi, hit over .390 on the outside, which is a tough feat.”
The Gauchos will try to keep rolling with home matches on Friday against UC Davis and Saturday against UC Riverside.
Westmont College (15-3) suffered its first GSAC defeat on Friday at Vanguard’s tiny gym where, as coach Ruth McGolpin put it, “It was so hot that our libero, in between sets, had to go change a jersey.”
“She barely made it back in time,” McGolpin said of junior Lauren Frills. “Those jerseys are very tight-fitting and she actually had to have a Vanguard fan help her put the jersey on outside, along with our assistant coach, to get back in time.”
Although the Warriors lost in five sets, they rebounded with win at San Diego Christian to pull into a tie for first with Vanguard.
SBCC (4-8) decided to “reset” its season with Friday’s Western State Conference opener at Los Angeles Mission, where it swept all three sets.
“In our brain, Friday was the first day of our season,” coach Kat Niksto said. “That was a great start.”
The Vaqueros then went 2-1 in the Mount SAC Invitational on Saturday.
“So in our brains, we’re 3-1 on the season,” Niksto said.
She noted that freshman Gabi Brewer, a left-handed opposite hitter, got a pair of double-doubles (in kills and digs) on the weekend. “I believe we haven’t seen a team that she can’t offensively dominate,” Niksto said.