UCLA track and field will renew its crosstown rivalry with USC on Sunday at Drake Stadium.
This is UCLA’s first and only dual meet this season, and the team is returning 10 event winners from last year’s meet against the Trojans, including redshirt junior thrower Ashlie Blake, who won the women’s discus and finished third in shot put last year.
“Last year, I got second place at Pac-12s, I PR’d at the USC-UCLA dual meet and I PR’d at regionals, so I just want to keep that momentum going and top my championship season from last year,” Blake said. “I’m feeling pretty confident in myself and my teammate (freshman) Alyssa Wilson to do great this weekend against USC.”
Blake is currently ranked third in the nation in shot put. Her teammate Wilson has been a triple threat this season, currently ranked 10th, 26th and 31st in shot put, discus and hammer throw, respectively. All three events advance the top 48 athletes in the nation to the NCAA championships.
Bruin throwers, who have racked up 20 top-two finishes across the team’s track meets this year, also claimed victory in four out of six throwing events last year.
Bruin distance runners also dominated the dual meet last year, bringing home wins in five out of their six events. Of those five event winners, juniors George Gleason and Jackie Garner, sophomore Cassandra Durgy and redshirt sophomore Colin Burke are returning to defend their titles.
UCLA’s sprinters, by contrast, have achieved four top-two finishes this season, and won only two out of 14 events against USC last year. This is in part due to injuries to key members of the team, such as senior Joe Herrera, who won the men’s 400-meter dash last week at the John Jacobs Invitational in Oklahoma.
“Being that (the John Jacobs Invitational) was my second run this year, it brought my confidence back, and I just feel ready to improve after that,” Herrera said. “We’ve been trying to save my hamstrings; in the past three years I’ve pulled my hamstrings before this point in the season, so I’ve been kind of prehabbing to get ready for championship season.”
However, Herrera is not the only Bruin sprinter who has been dealing with injuries this season.
“It’s just been one of those seasons; some of the seniors (Jelvon Butler, Ashley Lewis and Herrera) have been seeing what can happen with hard work, and they’ve been rubbing off on the younger athletes, but we’ve just got to get healthy,” said sprints assistant coach Curtis Allen. “We just have to come out of this meet and Pac-12s healthy so we can continue moving on.”
This weekend’s meet will also mark the return of Rai Benjamin to Westwood. However, this time Benjamin will be donning Trojan cardinal and gold, following his transfer from UCLA to USC after the 2017 track season.
In last season’s USC-UCLA meet, Benjamin finished second in the 400-meter dash and first in the 400-meter hurdles. He also finished second at the NCAA championships in the 400-meter hurdles last year with a time of 48.33 seconds, .01 seconds behind the winner, earning himself first-team All-American honors.
UCLA track and field’s men’s team is currently losing the all-time series 41-43 to USC; the women’s team currently holds a 22-12 all-time advantage.