The field of competitors in Division I outdoor track and field has dwindled from thousands to the top 96 for each individual event.
Of those 96 top athletes in each individual event, the top 48 in the East will compete in the NCAA East Regional in Jacksonville, Fla., starting Thursday, while the top 48 in the West will travel to Austin, Texas, to compete in the NCAA West Regional.
Thirty-two UCLA track and field athletes will be part of the latter group competing in Austin starting Thursday.
Entering his first-ever NCAA Regional meet, freshman Steele Wasik is one of two Bruins competing in the 110-meter hurdles. Wasik, who’s primarily a multi-event athlete and not solely a hurdler, said he doesn’t really have much to lose in this NCAA Regional meet.
“It’s not really about qualifying for nationals this year or anything,” Wasik said. “Just getting a (personal record) and kind of getting with the group and competing is all I’m looking for.”
Wasik said the one thing he’ll have to get accustomed to is the change in environment. Wasik trained in Drake Stadium all year, and his most recent competition – the Pac-12 championship on May 16-17 – was at Drake Stadium as well.
“Having Pac-12s at home was really nice, but Texas is going to be hot. It’s going to be windy,” Wasik said. “When you go anywhere and you travel far, you just have to stay hydrated, because your body is changing environments and locations. You just have to be smart.”
Similar to Wasik, redshirt sophomore Torie Owers will also be making her first appearance at an NCAA Regional meet. After finishing as the runner-up at the Pac-12 championship, Owers – who is currently ranked No. 17 in the country – said she wants to use this NCAA Regional meet as a second chance to capture a No. 1 spot.
“I want it to win. I want to throw well. I want to represent the school well,” Owers said. “I’m not happy with finishing runner-up in the Pac-12s. I want to keep moving it up and do much bigger things.”
Owers said she has sought out the help of her teammate and two-time reigning Pac-12 champion shot put thrower, redshirt junior Nicholas Scarvelis, who enters the men’s shot put competition ranked No. 10 in the country.
“He and I train together, and he helps me so much,” Owers said. “He’s told me the format of the meet, when we’re going to practice, those sort of things. We are getting the feel for things even though we’re not there yet.”
Additionally, Owers is looking to take advantage of the weather change that Wasik is trying to acclimate to. A native of Georgia, Owers is used to humidity and rain and has mentally prepared herself for the possible conditions of the meet.
“I’m really fortunate that I’ve spent a lot of time back home in Georgia, even when it was raining outside,” Owers said. “The competitors who let adverse conditions get to them typically don’t do as well. The most important thing is to be flexible.”
Unlike his two younger teammates, redshirt senior Alec Faldermeyer will have a lot more riding on this NCAA Regional meet. This will be the senior’s fourth and final time at the regional meet, and he has never failed to qualify for the national meet. With such high expectations at hand, Faldermeyer said he’s feeling the pressure more than usual.
“I definitely feel like there’s a little more pressure to get to the national championship,” Faldermeyer said. “I’ve never failed to qualify for it before, so I’m just kind of nervous about the fact that it’s going to be crazy weather in Texas. (But) I feel prepared.”
The veteran Faldermeyer said he’s made sure to carry this sense of awareness to his younger teammates that will be competing, such as Wasik.
“The regionals is unlike any other meet they’ve had,” Faldermeyer said. “Since they’re freshmen, we just kind of have to let them know that they have to be able to stay fresh through the round and execute the technique that they’ve been doing all season.”
Faldermeyer also noted that the his own performance and the performance of other older teammates could affect the way that the younger athletes approach the meet.
“I think if we can impress that on the younger guys, then they’ll get through the rounds just fine,” he said.
Should Faldermeyer or any of the Bruins finish in the top 12 of the 48 athletes competing in their respective events at the NCAA West Regional this week, they will head to Eugene, Ore., for the NCAA outdoor championship, which begins on June 10.
Contributing reports by David Wong, Bruin Sports contributor.