No. 7 USC, No. 10 Arizona, No. 12 Stanford, No. 20 Oregon, No. 21 UCLA, No. 23 Washington.
That’s the list of Pac-10 men’s track and field teams currently ranked in the top 25 nationally. Together, the Pac-10 could probably field a competitive Olympic team.
It goes without saying, then, that the competition at the Pac-10 Championships, held today and Saturday, will be tough sledding.
Yet the Bruins not only think they can compete this weekend in Arizona, but they also think they can win.
“You never go into a fight thinking you’re going to lose,” assistant coach LaMonte Vaughn said. “If we keep fighting, we can be the last team standing when the smoke clears.”
UCLA’s confidence is not unfounded. In competitive team meets, the Bruins have fared well against consistently tough competition. This season, the Bruins tied Oregon and beat USC and Tennessee in scored dual meets and came in second in a scored tri-meet with highly ranked Arkansas and Texas.
A gauntlet like that might scare other teams. But if coach Mike Maynard has his druthers, every season would be like that.
“That’s what I promised these guys from the first day I met them,” Maynard said. “Being competitive is a skill. … That’s why we have dual meets against Texas and Arkansas and USC and Oregon. These guys are battle-tested and war-ready.”
The Bruins would be confident going into this weekend if everyone were starting at zero. But thanks to the results of the decathlon championships last week, UCLA currently has a hold on first place with 15 amassed points.
The rest of the team was paying attention.
“They had the live results up on Arizona’s website, so we were following that,” redshirt senior pole vaulter Greg Woepse said. “(The decathletes) came up huge. Hopefully we can carry that momentum; that’s how the rest of the team needs to perform.”
According to Vaughn, the connectedness displayed by this Bruin team is rare among track and field squads.
“I guarantee some track teams don’t even know how many points they have right now. They go, “˜We sent decathletes?’” Vaughn said. “On this team, every coach is involved. The whole team knows. So when that good news spreads, the momentum spreads.”
UCLA has its usual suspects: Woepse, senior jumper Jonathan Clark, senior distance runner Cory Primm and freshman thrower Alec Faldermeyer. They, among others, have performed well all season and can be expected to do so again.
But if UCLA has any hope of a Pac-10 title ““ which it does ““ it will rest on the less heralded players.
Those unsung individuals include freshman pole vaulter Mike Woepse, Greg Woepse’s younger brother, and freshman sprinter R.J. Frasier, both of whom have provided the points UCLA has needed all season long. And a huge performance out of anyone other than the top guys could push this team to the top.
“Anybody at any moment could step up. It could come from anyone or anywhere,” Vaughn said. “That’s what makes this team so dangerous.”