The two-day home opener for UCLA track and field this past weekend started with, according to assistant coach Forest Braden, one of the best days for the program’s distance team he’s ever seen.
And though the Bob Larsen Distance Carnival concluded Friday evening, Saturday’s continuation of the Legends of Track and Field Invitational at Westwood’s own Drake Stadium was no less than the same for the rest of the team.
On Friday, redshirt senior Austin O’Neil ran his first official steeple chase for UCLA and clocked in at 8 minutes, 44.46 seconds, the sixth-fastest time in school history and the second-fastest steeple time in the nation.
Then, junior Daniel De La Torre ran a lifetime best of 13:57.25 and freshman Garrett Reynolds also went sub-14 minutes to go 1-2 in the men’s 5,000 meters.
In the men’s 10,000 meters, UCLA took five of the top six spots in the collegiate division. Redshirt freshman Colin Burke won the collegiate 10,000 meters with a personal best time of 29:27.91, second in the entire event only to UCLA alumnus Lane Werley, who competed in the invitational division, and was followed by senior Jonah Diaz, redshirt sophomore Jackson Marshall and junior Myles Smith.
On the women’s side, sophomore Maddi Moore won the collegiate 1,500, freshman Cassandra Durgy won the 800 meter and redshirt freshman Jackie Garner finished first in the collegiate division in the women’s 10,000 meters.
All in all, the UCLA distance squad totaled 11 top-three finishes over the 13 events its members ran in Friday.
But then halfway through Saturday’s events at the Legends of Track and Field Invitational, the high jump team stole the show.
Freshman Mikella Lefebvre-Oatis set three consecutive personal bests in the high jump, clearing heights of 5 feet, 10 inches, 5-11.25 and then 6-0.75 feet, the latter two on her first attempt.
“I kept on getting them on my first attempts – it was surreal,” Lefebvre-Oatis said. “I had such a hard indoor season and beginning of outdoor season – I was hitting 170 (cm) back-to-back-to-back.”
Over five meets both indoor and outdoor until Saturday, her best clear on any given day wavered at most three centimeters from the 1.70 mark.
After Saturday’s performance, Lefebvre-Oatis is now tied for the top height in the nation, and is sixth on the all-time UCLA record board.
A few hours later, freshman Isaiah Holmes and sophomore Michael Burke turned the men’s high jump into an intersquad duel, in which neither could top the other in the end.
“Our word is follow each other over the bar,” Holmes said. “I would clear first and he would go right after, that’s what we try to do and it seemed to work today.”
Holmes technically won the event with less misses than Burke, but the two high jumpers both had clearances of 7-2.50 feet, which tied the fourth-highest mark in the country.
“This is not the first time you’re going to see me and Michael at the top,” Holmes said. “One-two at nationals is the goal.”
Holmes also placed first in the long jump with a mark of 23-10 feet, in front of senior long jumper Austin Hazel who ran a half approach.
UCLA finished first and second in two other events Saturday as well. In the women’s shot put, senior Torie Owers and redshirt sophomore Ashlie Blake finished first and second, respectively, and the men’s 200-meter dash featured lifetime bests from sophomore Rai Benjamin and junior Leon Powell.
The duo’s poor opening exchange in the 4×100-meter relay earlier cost UCLA an opportunity to improve upon its best time in more than five years, which the team set last weekend in Arizona, but the 200-meter dash more than made up for the lack of relay fireworks.
Benjamin’s 20.64 is the 11th-fastest time in the nation for the event this year, while Powell’s 20.90 is currently 19th.