“Run through the finish!” rang through Drake Stadium after a runner eased off a couple feet short of the white line. The command then quickly echoed once again as the very next runner repeated the same mistake.
As UCLA runners begin tapering in preparation for the upcoming Notre Dame Last Chance meet and the NCAA championships after that, middle distance assistant coach Johnny Gray continues to hammer home the basic fundamentals to his team. Gray’s squad is a young group, comprised of mostly freshmen and sophomores.
“Because we’re working with freshmen, we have to get them accustomed to competing and gaining their confidence to compete at a high level,” Gray said. “It’s the crawl method: crawl before you walk. We can say that high school was crawling; now they’re trying to walk here at UCLA, and we just have to be patient.”
Just two weeks away from the end of the indoor track season, coaches still have to remind the middle distance runners to maintain their posture, strides and speed at the finish. Gray calls this a learning process with these youngsters as he builds them to become stronger runners.
“I’m teaching them how to compete and teaching them how to perform,” Gray said.
Freshman sprinter and hurdler Laurie Femmel understands the message that the coaches have set for the team.
“I want to get faster,” Femmel said. “I want to break 57 (seconds). That’s my ultimate goal for the 400, also working on technique and such.”
The Bruins do have more than just learning and growth at stake as they prepare for the Notre Dame Last Chance, the last opportunity for track athletes to gain entry into the NCAA championships.
For the members of the distance medley relay team, they hope that they can continue building on their recent success. After its win at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships on Saturday, the team is already qualified for the NCAA championships.
Despite its current standing, the team will still make the trip to Notre Dame this weekend.
“We’re qualified now, but it’s best we go so other teams don’t surpass us and push us back,” Gray said. “So we’re going for precautionary purposes and seeing if we can also better our time.”
Sophomore sprinter Pete Lauderdale is one of four members on the winning distance medley relay team, which competed together for the first time in the MPSF Championships. With the NCAA championships in sight, Gray is challenging his distance medley relay team to not fade down the stretch. Lauderdale has already put the win behind him, instead looking forward to the next challenge.
“My goal is to hit 46 (seconds) for my split and just compete,” he said. “I want to work on my form and stamina and enjoy college life.”