Over 60 teams scored at least one point at the NCAA Division I Indoor Championships, but UCLA was not one of them.
Even with the country’s fifth-ranked shot putter, sophomore Dotun Ogundeji in tow, the Bruins were unable to make an impression. Not a single one of the four athletes cracked the top 10, and three of them finished in 12th.
According to Ogundeji, he came into the meet as a favorite for the first time in his career, but he was not able to get out to the hot start he wanted.
“This is probably one of the biggest meets that I’ve been at where I’m deemed the top dog,” Ogundeji said. “Last year I was seeded 16th – there were not really any expectations for me going in.”
Ogundeji committed fouls on the first two of his three total throws. On his final attempt he reached 17.27 meters, more than 2.5 meters less than the PR mark he set a few weeks earlier. The throw resulted in a 15th-place finish, more than half a meter shy of 14th place.
“This meet I was the only guy that was top-five in the country (for UCLA). You kind of start thinking about that more. … There’s a higher expectation,” Ogundeji said. ”I thought I had to do a lot of things with a different mindset going in. It changed up the rhythm and ended up kind of throwing me off.”
Ogundeji’s counterpart on the women’s squad, redshirt senior Torie Owers, also fell short of her best marks and netted one of UCLA’s three 12th place finishes. Her throw of 16.07 meters was over a meter shy of the distance that put her through to the competition.
On the other side of the field, senior long jumper Austin Hazel was among the two jumpers who represented UCLA at the event. His mark of 7.55 meters was the second best of his 2017 indoor season, but yielded only 12th place.
“Obviously it didn’t go as well as I wanted it to, but I mean I’m still happy that I was able to compete here,” Hazel said. “As fas as I know I should still be second team All-American, so I can’t hang my head too low.”
The other jumper for the Bruins was sophomore high jumper Michael Burke, and according to coach Jack Hoyt, his performance was hampered by less intensive training due to a back injury he sustained mid-season.
“He was 100 percent, but in the training and competitions leading in we had to back off on him quite a bit … just to make sure he got (to championships) healthy,” Hoyt said. “His timing was just a little off on his approach. I think it hurt him that we didn’t get as many quality jumps in indoors leading up to this meet as we would have liked to.”
Burke finished his first-ever collegiate indoor season clearing 2.10 meters in the high jump, making him the third Bruin of the weekend to place 12th.
“He was excited and nervous, and he never started at a bar that high before. I think he was trying harder than he needed to,” Hoyt said. “Even as a young person he’s someone that will go in and be aggressive and not ever shy away from competition.”
With the indoor season behind it, UCLA track and field will now start to focus on the outdoor season, which has historically been its major focus.
“I’m just going to think about competing and throwing as hard as I possibly can. Going after the W,” Ogundeji said. “I’m going to make sure that every time I step into the ring everyone knows something big is about to happen, and that’s my goal for outdoor season.”