Tristan Watson nearly fell when he lunged at the finish line for the 110-meter hurdles race at the Western Athletic Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships. When he saw his time, he actually did fall to the ground.

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that is the fastest time,’” the Cal State Bakersfield senior hurdler said. “I was not expecting that.”

Watson finished the race in 14.01 seconds, a new personal record which is tied for second in CSUB history. He came in second place by just 0.01 of a second. Unbeknownst to Watson and CSUB track coach Marcia Mansur-Wentworth in the moment, Watson’s time qualified him for the NCAA West Regional meet in Sacramento on May 24 through 26.

“He was just confident and composed," Mansur-Wentworth said, "and when you look at an athlete that has that, you're like, ‘They’re gonna do something special.’ How special? We weren’t really sure. It was more special than what we had anticipated.”

Watson arrived in Lawrence, Kansas for the WAC Championships with a 14.49 personal record. He had the third-best time in the conference during the regular season and in the preliminaries, Watson reset his best time, finishing in 14.34 seconds.

In the championship heat, Watson could tell he got out to his best start ever as he kept up with Grand Canyon’s William Winfield, who ran the top time of 14.20 seconds in the preliminaries. Watson mentally told himself to keep pushing and stay with Winfield.

“Tuck and keep tight over the hurdles and just keep pushing as hard as I can,” Watson thought.

When the two crossed the finish line, neither Watson nor Mansur-Wentworth knew whether Watson or Winfield had won the race. Even though Watson came in second, it was the “performance of the meet” for CSUB, according to the head coach.

“His start was good,” Mansur-Wentworth said. “He didn't clip any hurdles. He was clean. He competed the whole way through. He dove at the finish line. I think you take a picture of that race and say, ‘This how to run the 110 hurdles.’”

It was a performance about eight months in the making (if not longer) dating back to when Watson returned to campus for the first practices of the school year. Gone were the days of Watson “dogging” training runs and being satisfied simply finishing workouts.

The 2017-18 version of the Stockdale graduate put in the extra effort to run with and compete with the leaders on the team in the training runs and weightroom.

“He’s always done the hurdling stuff well, but this year he’s done the other stuff so well it’s been able to take his talent in the hurdles and his training in the hurdles and take it to a new level,” Mansur-Wentworth said.

With regionals on the horizon, Watson is eying the program’s top mark of 13.97 seconds and hoping to take it down in his final collegiate competition.

“For a California guy, Bakersfield raised and educated, it’s gonna be really great to be able to close out a season on a track in the state of California,” Mansur-Wentworth said. “I don't think we could have had a better storybook ending.”

Jon Mettus can be reached at 661-395-7389. Follow him on Twitter at @jmettus.

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