The stage is set and the UCLA track and field entries for the indoor championships have been confirmed.
The Bruins will be represented solely by athletes in field events at the NCAA Division I Indoor Championships. Just two throwers and two jumpers will compete next weekend in College Station, Texas, each of whom has varying levels of nationals experience.
All but one of the participating athletes have been to the prestigious event before. Sophomore high jumper Michael Burke is the only competitor who will be unfamiliar with the atmosphere at the championships come next week. He set a personal record of 7 feet, 3 inches at his very first collegiate indoor meet in January, and has been among the top-10 highest jumpers in the country ever since.
“The feeling of making (the championship) is pretty indescribable in all honesty. I feel extremely happy with myself,” Burke said. “I’m still far from where I need to go, but … I really like my chances to be an All-American this year.”
Burke is the only high jumper from UCLA who made the championships. However, the throws squad had two shot putters qualify, both of whom have gone once before. Senior Torrie Owers qualified last weekend with a mark of 17.08 meters, her farthest throw in just under a year.
“I didn’t really have much to lose this meet because I haven’t been having a great season. I just wanted to come out and have fun and relax,” Owers said. “Going back in my final year … just gives me a little extra fire.”
When Owers went as a sophomore, she finished 14th with a throw of 15.64 meters. Her mark this year is 1.44 meters farther, and according to Owers the extra distance is exactly what she needs to make her competitive in the ever-growing field of women’s throwing.
“When I went as a sophomore, I got in with 16.83 and 16.80 made it,” Owers said after the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championships. “So the fact that probably 17 meters is what it’s going to take to make nationals just goes to show how much women’s throwing is really taking off.”
The other UCLA thrower to make it to the indoor championships is sophomore Dotun Ogundeji, who like Owers, has prior experience throwing in this meet. In his freshman year, Ogundeji represented UCLA and came in 10th, throwing 17.93 meters. The distance was nearly a meter and a half shy of his PR then, but this year Ogundeji has thrown farther than that in every single meet he’s taken part in.
“Last year, I went just to compete. I didn’t expect anything big,” Ogundeji said. “This year, I want something bigger. I’m pushing myself a whole lot more than I’m normally used to.”
Ogundeji is currently the fifth-ranked shot put thrower in the nation thanks to the lifetime best of 19.8 meters he recorded earlier this season.
“If I’m able to apply the pressure within the first couple of rounds, then I can easily sneak out a win,” Ogundeji said. “If I push (the competition) out of their comfort zone … then I end up winning the mental portion of it.”
According to Ogundeji, a hot start would force the other throwers to do things they’re not comfortable with, and that would be what he needs to secure the win.
Rounding out the entries for UCLA is senior long jumper Austin Hazel. He has gone to the indoor championships every year since 2014, which will make him the most experienced Bruin there.
Volunteer director of operations Rob Jarvis, who coached Hazel in his freshman year, said the senior is leaps and bounds ahead of where he was at the beginning of the year. Hazel started the 2017 season jumping 7.52 meters and since then has pushed his PR to 7.8 meters. That 7.52-meter jump would have been 25 centimeters short of the final qualifying mark for this year’s indoor nationals.
“If he is able to put together what he’s done at meets, I think he’s going to give himself a pretty fair shot to be an All-American,” Jarvis said. “I don’t even know how to quantify it, but the improvement he’s made this year has been huge.”