UCLA track and field’s dual meet with USC goes back decades.
Each year, trends and patterns are broken or made, and this season’s meet was no exception.
Although the UCLA men’s track and field team has come out on top each year for the past five years, each time the sprint squad has struggled to match USC’s, which features some of the strongest sprinters in the nation.
USC has topped UCLA in the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash, 400-meter dash and 4×100-meter relay. For one event, at least, that changed on Sunday.
Junior sprinter Leon Powell not only set a personal best in the 100-meter dash, but took first with a time of 10.26 seconds – the first time UCLA has taken first place in the event in 14 years.
“For more than a decade, UCLA has been trying to rebuild their sprint squad,” Powell said. “I’m glad I could be one of the central guys to get the job done.”
The score placed Powell back into the national top 40 for the event, and with the regular season at a close, Powell is confident he can continue to build if he remains healthy throughout.
When it comes to the distance field, however, the situation is flipped. UCLA’s men have placed first in the 1,500-meter, 5,000-meter and 3,000-meter steeplechase in each of the past four years. This year, they claimed the top three spots in all of those events, except the 5,000-meter in which a Trojan claimed third.
The women’s distance competitions have been more equal. The Bruins and Trojans have split first-place finishes in the three distance events and the 800-meter over the past three years, with UCLA taking seven wins and USC taking five, and UCLA picked up wins this season in three events they dropped to the Trojans in 2016.
In the 800-meter, sophomore Julia Rizk produced a personal best with a time of 2 minutes, 5.12 seconds, just enough for her to beat last year’s champion, USC’s Mikaela Smith.
In the 1500-meter, freshman Cassandra Durgy and sophomore Jackie Garner took first and second place, respectively, with times just eight-hundredths of a second apart. To round out the title reclamations, Garner finished first in the 5,000-meter with a time of 18:21.41, beating her closest USC competition by more than 30 seconds.
“Having a big freshman class to choose from really helped this past weekend. … A lot of those girls really stepped up to the plate,” Rizk said. “Going into championship season, this performance definitely sets a good precedent for us, and (coach Forest Braden) was absolutely thrilled with how the distance team did.”
The Pac-12 championship is just over a week away for most, but the performances from Sunday – trend-breaking, trend-making or neither – have proven something in the Bruins’ eyes.
“This performance shows how strong our whole team is and how much we’ve grown these past couple years,” Rizk said. “UCLA is definitely back on the radar for a lot of other teams.”