Seven qualifying UCLA track and field athletes boarded a plane for Eugene, Oregon, on Monday, with the NCAA championships just two days away.
This year’s nationals squad is a mix of experience levels, with one freshman, two sophomores, two juniors and two seniors. For four of the seven Bruins, this will be their first time on the biggest stage.
Freshman Alyssa Wilson will take that stage three times at her first nationals, competing in the women’s hammer throw, shot put and discus. She was the only Bruin this year to qualify in multiple events, and also the only female thrower in the nation to qualify in three different throwing events.
At the other end of the age range, senior Kendall Gustafson will make her first nationals appearance in her last collegiate meet. She will compete in the women’s heptathlon Friday and Saturday as the No. 8 seed, putting her in position to garner first-team All-American honors.
“It’s really exciting. It’s somewhere that I feel like I should’ve been the last couple of years but wasn’t able to get there because of injuries,” Gustafson said. “For me, it’s really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My main thing is I’m just going to go out there and enjoy my experience.”
Two transfer students will also make their nationals debut on the first day of competition.
Junior Justin Stafford, who transferred to UCLA in the fall of 2016, will compete in the men’s hammer throw, the first field event of the day Wednesday.
Later in the evening, junior Robert Brandt will toe the line for the men’s 10,000 meter. A transfer from this past fall, Brandt is the only runner to qualify for the Bruins this year, after eight qualified last year.
Just two athletes are returning from last year’s nationals team, both in the men’s javelin. After competing alongside each other all season, sophomores Simon Litzell and Marian Spannowsky qualified for NCAAs in the second year in as many tries.
“Having a training partner was something I was looking for here, because I practiced basically alone at home,” Spannowsky said of Litzell. “We’re almost the same level, so we push each other a lot and try to be better than each other.”
Finally, senior Jessie Maduka will compete in the women’s triple jump Saturday, entering the meet ranked sixth in the nation. Maduka has the most championship experience of anyone on the Bruins, with this being her third appearance.
However, this will be her first and only time making it to nationals as a triple jumper.
“It’s definitely a special meet, because it’s the last chance to write history at UCLA,” Maduka said. “We didn’t have female triple jumpers here for a long time. This is really the first and last meet to show everyone that UCLA has a good jumps team again.”
Regardless of their various experience levels, these seven Bruins have all made it to the final weekend of the season, with one last chance to compete.
Except for Wilson, who technically has three.
The NCAA championships will take place from Wednesday to Saturday.