The top 48 runners, jumpers and throwers in each event from the western half of the country are all coming together this weekend in the second most important meet of the year – the NCAA Division I West Preliminary Round.
Only the highest nationally seeded Bruins will be sent to Austin, Texas. The team this year has varying levels of experience at the meet, from veterans who have been there three years to freshmen and sophomores who will be there for the first time.
Both junior sprinter Leon Powell and sophomore sprinter Rai Benjamin are among the Bruins who have been to the meet before, and they’re running multiple events.
Benjamin is the third-seeded runner in the 400-meter hurdles, which is his main event. While having run a top-48 time in the open 400 meters this season, Benjamin will be narrowing his focus to just the 4×100 relay and his hurdle race.
Powell, who will be making his third appearance at the meet, is entered in three events. In addition to joining Benjamin in the 4×100, he will be running the open 100 and 200 meters. Powell said that because his workload is especially high this weekend, his main focus is getting through all the events unscathed.
“I’m not really doing anything different this year,” Powell said. “This year I’m running three times on three different occasions so I’m just trying to stay healthy for the most part.”
This season, the men’s 4×100 team ran a time below 40.00 seconds, something it hadn’t done in years, and Powell said out of all the events he’s doing this weekend, he’s most looking forward to that relay.
“(I am) definitely most excited for the 4×100, just because I think we can do great things with it,” Powell said. “It would be great to have everyone go to nationals if we qualify.”
Another notable returner is junior Daniel De La Torre, who is coming off of a hip injury that hindered his performance last year.
“It’s been a progression,” De La Torre said. “After my hip fracture my freshman year it was really hard to get back to where I was. This year I’m there.”
De La Torre ran the 5K at the Pac-12 championships as a freshman and logged a time of 14:42.38, coming in 24th overall. This year, he logged a personal best time in the same event at 13:46.14.
Junior hurdler Misana Viltz and freshman sprinter Logen Casavant are the only other sprinters besides Benjamin and Powell from UCLA’s men’s side this year who are entered in individual events. Viltz will be making his third appearance at the regional meet, with his best showing coming in 2015 when he came in 19th in the 110 hurdles.
Sophomore Julia Rizk is entered in the 800 meters and her time of 2:05.12 is the best by a female Bruin in more than four years. Rizk, redshirt senior thrower Torie Owers, redshirt sophomore thrower Ashlie Blake, junior pole vaulter Elleyse Garrett and redshirt sophomore pole vaulter Greta Wagner represent the whole of returners for the UCLA women.
As for the athletes who will be making their debuts at the meet, redshirt senior Austin O’Neil is in the 5000-meter and the 3000-meter steeplechase for the first time. Other debuting distance runners include freshman John Carter Blunt and sophomore Arturo Sotomayor, both of whom have been entered in the 1500 meters.
The only representatives in the sprints on the women’s side will be sophomore Suzie Acolatse in the 100 meters and redshirt sophomore Pattriana Perry in the 110-meter hurdles, both of whom will be making their first appearances at an NCAA Regional meet.
High jumpers sophomore Michael Burke, senior Sage Stone and freshman Isaiah Holmes will also be competing this weekend.
Holmes has been logging big jumps all year, his PR of 2.20 meters giving him the eighth seed overall in his first regional meet.
“I just want to pull out a big jump to start the competition and make everybody chase after me,” Holmes said. “I want to keep the stress low. That’s my main goal – just to stay relaxed and get the big jump over with.”
Freshman Mikella Lefebvre-Oatis will also be partaking in the high jump. This year, she tied for sixth all-time at UCLA with her PR of 1.85 meters.
Last year, seven Bruins on the men’s side and three individual women and their 4×100 team made it through regionals to the championship meet. This year, UCLA is sending four more athletes than in 2016.