Los Angeles’ oldest rivalry is set for its annual track and field renewal, and this time UCLA will be heading downtown.
The Bruins and the Trojans will clash again Sunday at Loker Stadium in UCLA’s second and final dual meet of the year.
UCLA has only three returning event winners from last year’s meet, but the team has a fleet of athletes that USC has never been up against before.
Freshman John Carter Blunt is just one of the many freshmen making his debut at USC this weekend. Blunt’s 4 minute, 2.06 second time in his first ever collegiate outdoor mile is currently UCLA’s best mile performance for the 2017 season, but he will be taking his focus off the mile this weekend and putting his efforts toward the 800 meters.
Despite the inexperience, Blunt said he is confident in the younger group’s ability to perform well at this meet.
“I think we’ll do pretty good. Coach (Mike) Maynard always talks about how we had the best freshman recruiting class for track and field,” Blunt said. “We kind of have to hold up to our standards. … The USC meet is probably the biggest dual meet in all of America, but I think we’ll be able to handle the stress.”
Blunt will be running alongside others, including UCLA’s leading 800-meter runner sophomore Arturo Sotomayor.
“We’re in really good company and I think a really fast time will come,” Blunt said. “I know Arturo likes to go out really fast so the key is just to … latch onto him and help him carry you along.”
According to the Track & Field Results Reporting System website, UCLA’s distance runners have better times than USC’s in every single event except the 800 meters. USC’s Robert Ford has a time of 1:48.90, which ranks him 50th in the nation, six places ahead of Sotomayor.
Freshman Isaiah Holmes’ high jump mark is the team’s highest this year, and it stands as the sixth highest in the nation at 2.20 meters.
“I am so stoked,” Holmes said. “I have heard nothing but good things about the meet and how the energy is so high.”
Another first-timer at USC will be sophomore sprinter/hurdler Rai Benjamin. Despite being in his second year, a foot injury prevented him from participating in the meet in his 2016 outdoor season.
Benjamin’s times in the 400 meters, 200 meters and 400 hurdles are all top 30 in the nation. His 400-meter hurdle is his top mark so far – he’s ninth in the country with a time of 50.12 seconds.
“I like where I’m at right now … but I know I can run way faster. It’s just a matter of putting my race together,” Benjamin said. “I know this is tradition and this meet goes back ages, so I’m just excited to finally get out there.”
While he said he respects USC, he doesn’t like their colors or their campus – they’re the enemy.
As for Bruins who have experienced this meet before, junior Misana Viltz and senior Max Davis are two of the three returning runners to have logged event wins in last year’s meet. Viltz posted a time of 13.92 seconds in the 110 meters and Davis ran a 9 minutes, 38.79 seconds in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
Viltz and Davis will be running those same events again this year.
UCLA is going all in, sending athletes for every event, and according to Benjamin, its young runners are ready to impress.
“I think our younger class is pretty impressive,” Benjamin said. “We have a lot to look forward to and they’re going to shine. … They’re going to do their best to shock everyone.”