Forty seconds isn’t much time. It’s hardly enough time to read a single page from a favorite book or microwave some ramen. But for four Bruin sprinters, it was more than enough time to cover 400 meters.
In 39.32 seconds, redshirt junior Eldridge Massington, sophomore Rai Benjamin, senior Darnell Roberson and junior Leon Powell ran the ninth-fastest 4×100 relay in UCLA history May 27 at the NCAA Division I West Preliminary Round.
The Bruins had run a sub-40-second time twice in the season already – once at the Pac-12 vs. Big Ten Invitational, where they posted a 39.91, and again at the USC vs. UCLA dual meet, where they logged a 39.77 – but neither time was enough to crack the UCLA all-time top 10.
The gap between their record performance and their previous best was just under half a second, and while that may seem like a small fraction of time off the track, head sprints coach Darrell Smith said the team has been pushing for those extra tenths since the season began.
“It’s been there all year – we just had to get the pieces together. I’ve always told my guys the season starts at the ‘SC dual meet,” Smith said. “The important meets are now. Everything leading up to now is me trying to figure out how to put them in the best situation to give us the best chance to go and get it.”
Smith has been working with the order for the relay all year, and a few weeks ago he added Massington, who normally plays as a wide receiver on UCLA’s football team, to the roster as an alternate for the relay.
“I’ve always told (Massington) he has to solidify his position with football first,” Smith said. “But he’s always been around track and he always wanted to run, which is what led to last year as well.”
In 2016, Massington ran the first leg of the 4×100 relay at the NCAA West prelims, UCLA didn’t make it to the championship round.
This year, however, UCLA qualified for the NCAA Division I Championship, and the 4×100 time that put them there was the fastest UCLA had seen since 1995.
According to almost all of the sprinters on the relay, there’s still plenty of room for improvement in what is going to be the final meet of the year.
“I think (our handoffs) can get a little bit better,” Powell said. “We worked on it this week in practice, we actually focused just on handoffs. That will give us a faster time.”
According to Roberson, the handoffs are the difference between a sub-40-second relay and a sub-39-second one. And as he put it, the guys on the team have to “secure the bag” if they want to be successful on track.
“The bag is many things but it basically means doing your job and executing,” Roberson said. “If we’re not improving, the bag is not secure and that’s not an option. Some bags are bigger than others. Making it to nationals was a major bag.”
Now, securing the bag at the NCAA Championship meet – less than a week away – is the main focus for the quartet of sprinters, and Smith thinks this team has a fair shot at becoming one of the top 12 relay squads in the nation.
“I think the guys are primed and ready to run something really fine,” Smith said. “They can get higher up the top-10 list and run under 39 (seconds). I think running 38 will get them a spot in that final.”