After the extensive indoor season, the Bruins will top it off at the long-anticipated NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships.
Four of UCLA track and field’s top athletes – two jumpers and two throwers – will take part this weekend in College Station, Texas.
Redshirt sophomore thrower Dotun Ogundeji, senior thrower Torie Owers, senior long jumper Austin Hazel and 11th-seed sophomore high jumper Michael Burke all share the same hope of delivering a performance worthy of first-team All-American status, which comes with a top-eight finish.
Given this is one of track’s biggest meets of the year, the field will feature top competition from around the country.
For Ogundeji, it will be his second time competing at this particular meet and after coming in 12th last year, he feels confident he has what it takes to place within the top eight.
Ogundeji faces strong All-American returners such as the top thrower in the nation, Colorado State junior Mostafa Hassan, Virginia redshirt junior Filip Mihaljevic, who’s seeded third this year and sophomore Denzel Comenentia, the ninth seed from Georgia.
Of the three, Mihaljevic had the farthest throw at last year’s championships. He finished second at indoor nationals, followed by Hassan who finished fifth and Comenentia who finished eighth.
However, Ogundeji is most looking forward to competing against his high school rival, USC sophomore thrower Matthew Katnik, and Indiana sophomore Willie Morrison.
In high school, Katnik and Ogundeji consistently threw personal bests against each other at the same meets, and Morrison threw only one centimeter shorter than Ogundeji to qualify.
“I competed against (Morrison) at USA Championships last year, and he only throws at big meets,” Ogundeji said. “He throws big at the beginning of the season to qualify and then he tapers off to make sure he’s ready to compete at big meets like the NCAAs.”
Owers, who is the 13th seed, will be returning to the indoor championships for the second time in her career, and Hazel, who is the 12th seed, will be making his NCAA indoor debut Friday.
Owers will face the top shot putter in the nation in Ole Miss junior Raven Saunders, who is competing for the third time at this meet and finished 12th last year. Also in the field is third seed Arizona State junior Magdalyn Ewen and Baylor senior Cion Hicks, this year’s seventh seed.
Ewen placed 15th last year, and Hicks took 11th.
Hazel faces stiff competition in the long jump with both SIU-Edwardsville senior Julian Harvey, who is seeded first overall and who finished 13th last year, and Texas A&M junior Will Williams, the eighth seed, who finished seventh last year.
Nevertheless since it’s their final year at UCLA, Hazel and Owers are focusing less on their competition and more on what they can do to better their odds of becoming All-Americans.
“It’s not so much about beating specific people. … It’s about doing the best that I can and if that’s enough for an All-American on that day, then that’ll be wonderful,” Owers said. “It’s really an opportunity to have the level of competition that you normally don’t have so it should be an electric atmosphere.”
Hazel shared a similar viewpoint when asked about Friday.
“I’m not too concerned with the competition, but more so about treating this meet like any other meet,” Hazel said. “I didn’t lift at all this week and lifted once last week to be fresh for this Friday, so I’m going to do me and just have fun.”