With the indoor invitationals behind them, the UCLA track and field team opened up its outdoor season this past weekend.
The Bruins, who according to director Mike Maynard are training through the early season meets in preparation for championship season later in the year, took first place in roughly half of the events that were offered in their dual meet against the Long Beach State 49ers on Saturday.
Headlining the performances for the women’s team was senior thrower Zaybree Haury, who set a new school record in the javelin. Her throw of 168 feet, 3 inches won the event by more than 30 feet and bettered the record set by Tara Ross in 2009 by just over 2 feet.
The Bruins would go on to win three of the four women’s throws events, with sophomore thrower Ashlie Blake not only finishing first in the women’s shot put, but also taking the discus crown. She set a personal best in the shot put with a throw of 16.67 meters, a distance of over 4 meters farther than the runner-up, and recorded her farthest discus throw in her collegiate career with a mark of 47.21 meters.
For Blake, she credits a lot of her success to her performances at practice and mental toughness. The latter is something that she has struggled with since coming to college.
“For me, and I talked to coach (Mike) Maynard about this, it’s about keeping my internal self calmer than my external self,” Blake said. “This was the calmest I’ve been in a competition since I’ve started college.”
Besides Blake and Haury, the women’s team also took first place in a number of other sections. The women’s distance team swept the distance events, sophomore distance runner Jackie Garner coming in first in the women’s 1,500-meter run with a time of 4 minutes, 38.32 seconds, sophomore Madison Moore taking the mid-distance 800-meter run with a time of 2:14.00 and freshman Claire Markey finishing first with a time of 9:43.89 in the 3,000-meter run.
Markey was the top runner for UCLA in last fall’s cross country season despite never running competitively on trails before except for track in high school.
“Switching from cross country to track season, it was great to get a race under the belt and get that competitive knack back,” Markey said. “Overall, I finished really well, I had a good kick at the end, so me and my coach are happy with the performance.”
On the men’s side, freshman thrower Nate Esparza made his UCLA debut, competing in the throws trifecta of shot put, discus and hammer throw. He took first place in the shot put with a throw of 17.83 meters.
Like Blake, Esparza, who didn’t get within 20 feet of the leader in the other two events, wants to work on controlling his nerves and calming down before he competes.
“I need to work on throwing how I do in practice during the competition,” Esparza said. “Throwing three events made it a pretty taxing day, but throwing the hammer, which is completely new to me … helped release some nerves before shot put.”
After months of training, Esparza is scoring points for a men’s throws team that already features two of the nation’s premier throwers. Redshirt sophomore Dotun Ogundeji heads to Texas this weekend in line to be a first-team All-American in the shot put, and both he and junior Braheme Days were indoor All-Americans in 2016.
Both have done discus in the past – Ogundeji has also done the hammer throw – but both are primarily shot putters, leaving Esparza to figure as the point-scoring option for the other two events.
The freshman said he doesn’t want to re-route his focus on specializing in just the other throws events but wants to be able to compete in everything.
“Shot put is my baby,” Esparza said. “It’s my main event so I’ll be sticking with that. But with that said, all three I do wish to excel at.”