In the expansive world of collegiate sports, track and field has a relatively long season.
The indoor season goes from January to March, and the outdoor season goes from then on until the end of the academic year, with the NCAA Tournament taking place during spring finals week.
Months have passed since the end of last season, and the UCLA men’s track and field team isn’t dwelling on the past, despite a tumultuous turn of events for the season finale.
Last year, UCLA reached the NCAA Tournament after an impressive regular season followed by the team’s second Pac-10 title in a row, only to suffer a disqualification in the 4×100m relay due to a failed handoff, dooming the Bruins and knocking them out of the postseason.
Now, six months removed from that fateful incident, the dropped baton has become a distant memory for the men’s team.
The Bruins kick off the indoor season in Seattle this weekend at the University of Washington Invitational.
And in fact, coach Mike Maynard’s team is entering the season with high spirits.
According to assistant coach Forest Braden, the team has been strength training in eager anticipation of the indoor season.
“It’s the first meet of the season, so we’re excited to get some good marks right off the bat,” Braden said. “Our guys heading up there are really strong.”
The buzz percolating from the men’s team isn’t all that surprising, considering the Bruins have at hand a studded group of freshmen pegged as the No. 4 recruiting class in the country, according to Track and Field News.
The freshmen figure to play key roles on the team this year; those likely to see action this season include pole vaulter Mike Woepse and thrower Alec Faldermeyer.
But the rest of the Pac-10 promises to feature just as talented a field of freshmen; the conference claims five of the 10 highest-seeded preseason freshmen recruiting classes this year, with Oregon, USC, Washington and Stanford all looking to be tough conference competitors as the season goes on.
On the other hand, the distance medley relay team, comprised of seniors Cory Primm and Quentin Powell, freshman Philip MacQuitty and redshirt senior Scott Crawford, will compete in the distance medley in Seattle both as a team as well as individually, and will seek to qualify for nationals early on in the season.
Junior distance runner Jonathan Simmons will represent the Bruins in the 800m, and redshirt senior distance runner Alex Crabill and senior distance runner Kent Morikawa will compete in the 3000m to round out the Bruins’ delegation.
“The earlier we can qualify for nationals the better,” Simmons said. “There’s only three more weeks until championship season, so you have to get out of the gate pretty soon.”
The relay team may have lost senior All-Americans Brandon Smith and Stan Griffin, but the Bruins hope to field an equally strong group this year. The 4×100m team set the bar high last season, as it won its second consecutive Pac-10 title and was the school’s first 4×100m team since 1998 to reach the NCAA final round.
Key returners for the Bruins this year include Primm, redshirt junior pole vaulters Casey and Scott DiCesare and redshirt senior pole vaulter Greg Woepse.
Last season, Primm broke a school record for the 800m at the NCAA prelims and finished fifth in the 800m in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Some of the team’s stronger events this year will likely be the vault and distance runs, which feature experienced returning athletes from the very distance medley team that finished with a time of 9:31 to win the conference in 2010.
Next weekend the Bruins will travel to New York for two days to compete in the New Balance Collegiate Invitational, and then travel to Albuquerque for the New Mexico Classic.