Forty-three UCLA athletes will make their way to Lawrence, Kansas to compete in the NCAA West Prelims – all in hopes of placing in the top 12 of their respective events.
But sophomore sprinter Leon Powell may have the most to compete for.
He had a quick start to the season in his main event – the 100 meter dash – running 10.41 seconds and 10.42 seconds in his first two outdoor races. However, shortly after the Texas A&M dual meet at Drake Stadium, Powell sustained a hamstring injury which forced him to take a couple weeks off of practice.
“I went to Pac-12s right after taking off that time, so I’m blessed to have been running the last two weeks,” Powell said. “I think this will probably be my best meet of all year, which is just in time coming off my injury. So I really think this’ll be my breakout meet.”
Powell has much to prove.
Despite a lifetime best of 10.23 seconds at the regional meet last year, he placed 13th – one spot away from making nationals. This year Powell predicts a time anywhere between 10.25 and the mid-10.1s will get him into the coveted top 12.
Additionally, the sophomore sprinter qualified for the 200-meter dash and will anchor the men’s 4×100 meter relay team. Seniors Kenneth Walker and freshman Rai Benjamin will join Powell in the relay, but the fourth spot has yet to be decided. Coaches are still deciding between Eldridge Massington, a redshirt junior wide receiver on the football team, and freshman sprinter Damion Marshall.
Massington has never run a collegiate track meet, but his high school track experience is something the coaches are considering. Massington broke the 10.7-second barrier in the 100-meter dash in four of his nine high school races. In the other five, he was still able to break the 10.9 second barrier.
Who the fourth leg is will be game-day decision – both Marshall and Massington made the trip to Lawrence.
Sophomore 110-meter hurdler Misana Viltz achieved a wind-aided career-best of 13.86 seconds at last season’s regional meet and will aim to reset his personal record this week in Lawrence.
“The goal always is to make nationals and be in the top 12, but regardless I want to end the season on a high note and maybe (set a personal record),” Viltz said. “Last year my 13.8 was wind-illegal, but that was in Austin at the University of Texas. The conditions here are really perfect for hurdling in my opinion, just a lot of sunshine and some humidity.”
Currently, Viltz is tied for the No. 44 time in the nation at 13.92 seconds. At this point in the season last year, he had yet to break the 14 second barrier.
Continuing the Bruins’ rich throwing tradition, junior Torie Owers joins a total of five other athletes who qualified for the shot put event at regionals. Owers described how throws coach John Frazier focused on mental preparation for this week’s practice. Frazier went as far as putting each thrower into specific situations that could possibly occur in the meet.
“Realistically at this point of the season, you’re not going to be able to change a lot of things technically or physically,” Owers said. “Coach Frazier was just more focused on me not wasting any time or energy, to get out there from the get-go.”
The meet will span three days, concluding this Saturday with field events such as shot put, high jump and triple jump.