As the indoor track and field season enters its home stretch, some athletes will be looking to place their names in the national championship discussion while others will be using the opportunity to steel their nerves for the big stage.
Following a two-week hiatus from competition, UCLA’s track and field athletes will be traveling to Washington in Seattle to compete in this weekend’s MPSF Indoor Championships.
For some athletes, this weekend will be their last chance to qualify for the NCAA Indoor Championships, while others will be using the opportunity to prepare mentally for nationals.
Sophomore thrower Nate Esparza falls into the second category. He has been at the forefront of a men’s throwing group that has been posting impressive results at every meet so far this season.
“Since most of us have top-16 marks, I think I can speak for most of the throwers in saying that we’re going into the MPSFs and treating it like prep for nationals,” Esparza said.
To qualify for the NCAA Indoor Championships, athletes must post top-16 scores in their respective events. Esparza and redshirt junior Dotun Ogundeji currently rank 10th and 12th, respectively, in men’s shot put.
On the women’s side, redshirt junior Ashlie Blake and freshman Alyssa Wilson are ranked seventh and eighth, respectively, in the women’s shot put, and figure to also have their tickets to nationals punched.
Senior jumper Jessie Maduka currently sits in third nationally for the women’s triple jump and seems to be a contender for a spot in the championship meet.
Sophomore jumper Isaiah Holmes is currently 24th in the nation in the men’s long jump, and, though he is currently on the outside looking in, he is only sitting .09 meters behind the 16th best jump in the nation. A similar distance separates the nation’s 16th best score from its sixth. A strong performance by Holmes this weekend could secure a place for him at nationals as well.
“Qualifying for nationals is at the top of my list (of goals) for this meet,” Holmes said. “We’re ready to do something big at MPSF.”
Senior pentathlete Kendall Gustafson is currently ranked 12th in the nation. She believes that she and fellow pentathlete junior Christina Chenault can make some noise at the meet this weekend.
“Since we came back from our meet (two weeks ago), we’ve been training really hard,” Gustafson said when describing the downtime between meets. “Winning (the pentathlon) and getting points for the team are also important to me, and (Chenault) and I can definitely put up big points in the multis.”
Though the team has been carried by big performances by the field athletes so far this season, the track athletes remain confident heading into this weekend.
“The team’s been working hard,” said assistant sprint coach Curtis Allen. “A lot of kids PR’d (during the break between races). If the energy level is there, I think our kids will go out and do well.”
One of the athletes who ran new personal records during the team’s extended break was senior sprinter Jelvon Butler, who set new personal bests in the 60-meter and 200-meter dash.
“We’ve been doing a lot of technical stuff in the last two weeks to prepare for this weekend,” Butler said. “I just want to do the best for my team and put us in a position to place.”
The team travels to Seattle this week and will be competing there Friday and Saturday.