Over a dozen UCLA track and field athletes currently hold national championship-qualifying spots.
More will seek to join their teammates’ ranks at the Rafer Johnson/Jackie Joyner-Kersee Invitational on Saturday, the team’s second home meet of the season. UCLA will host teams from Oregon State, Cal Poly, and Texas A&M.
Junior jumper Lillianna Hebert is one such athlete looking to earn a national-qualifying mark. Hebert is currently ranked 68th in the nation in the high jump, an event which advances the top 48 athletes to the national championships.
However, only 1 inch separates Hebert’s current season-best of 5 feet 7.5 inches from national championship-qualifying territory.
“I used to have a bit of a negative mindset, but positive feedback (from our coaches this year) has helped me conquer my mental blocks,” Hebert said. “I’ve been progressing tremendously this season, and I’m looking forward to setting a new (personal record), whether it be 5 feet 9 inches, 5 feet 10 inches or even 6 feet.”
UCLA’s throwers have retained the momentum of their strong indoor season, which produced four All-Americans. The throwers currently have six national championship-qualifying athletes, as they are in the top 48 of their respective events.
Led by redshirt junior Ashlie Blake, who ranks second in the nation in the women’s shot put, and freshman Alyssa Wilson, who ranks 22nd, 23rd and 32nd in the women’s discus, shot put and hammer throw, the throwers were further bolstered by the season debuts of sophomore javelin throwers Simon Litzell and Marian Spannowsky last weekend.
Litzell and Spannowsky placed first and second in the Pomona-Pitzer Invitational last weekend and opened their seasons ranked 25th and 35th, respectively, on the national leaderboard. Spannowsky said that the elite talent UCLA attracts in the javelin is what prompted him to attend the school.
“(Litzell) is a lot stronger than I am in the weight room, but I am better at sprints and jumps; we both push each other to get better,” Spannowsky said.
Junior thrower Justin Stafford, who has placed first, second and first in the hammer throw in successive meets to begin the outdoor season, looks to maintain his strong start, entering the week nationally ranked 47th in the men’s hammer throw.
“I’ve been focusing a lot on the mental aspects of throwing – it’s really just you against you,” Stafford said. “I want to be in top-tier shape for Pac-12s, regionals and NCAAs, and my goal (for the season) is to be a first-team All-American.”