The presence of upperclassmen dominates the UCLA track and field throwing roster.
The Bruins have nine returning throwers from last season and will be sending six of them to their first meet of the year at the Northern Arizona University Friday Night Duals in Flagstaff, Arizona on Friday.
Redshirt senior thrower Dotun Ogundeji said continuity has provided leadership not seen in prior years.
“(Having many returners) helps out because now we have such great leadership on the team,” Ogundeji said. “Every athlete on our team now, including myself, (redshirt senior thrower) Ashlie Blake, (redshirt sophomore thrower) Nate Esparza – those types of athletes that we’ve had since day one.”
Ogundeji said he has high aspirations of his own after finishing 13th in shot put at the NCAA Division I 2018 Indoor Championships with a mark of 18.54 meters.
“I think I will do extremely well (this season),” Ogundeji said. “My only goal this year is actually to make it on top of the podium and move myself up that top-10 list, if not (to) surpass the great Nicholas Scarvelis and Braheme Days.”
Ogundeji – who is roommates with returning senior thrower Justin Stafford – said the two have been plotting something big in the weeks leading up to the start of the season.
“We’ve been in constant contact about how far we can push ourselves and what we need to do to get (to the podium),” Ogundeji said. “I honestly think (Stafford) is going to be able to take over the NCAA.”
Stafford finished in third place in the hammer throw at the 2018 Pac-12 Track & Field Championships but placed 17th at NCAA Division I 2018 Outdoor Championships.
Throws coach John Frazier said Stafford’s performance at the NCAAs is a learning experience for him after now having a year under his belt upon returning from an ankle injury.
“(Stafford) has a better idea and understanding of being here at UCLA and what it takes here to perform,” Frazier said. “Then, after having gone to NCAAs last year, he realizes, ‘Oh this is what I need to do to compete and be a contributor to score at the meet.’”
Sophomore thrower Alyssa Wilson was the only athlete in the country and the first Bruin to qualify for three top-10 lists at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
Wilson finished the season securing two top-10 finishes in the shot put and hammer throw – the latter being the second-best mark in UCLA history with a distance of 66.99 meters.
Wilson said her freshman performances have given her an added sense of pressure heading into Friday night.
“There’s definitely a lot of pressure,” Wilson said. “Not only the pressure that my coaches and my family put on me but the pressure and accountability I hold myself up to.”
Wilson said her main focuses this year are to continue chasing personal records and to become an All-American in the discus – an event she fouled out in at NCAAs last season.
“She can literally take over the NCAA in every aspect of the sport,” Ogundeji said. “She can be a three-time national champion this year in the disc, shot and hammer. She’s probably the next big thing.”
Frazier said the Friday Night Duals will serve as a litmus test for his throwers.
“For first meets, I don’t have any expectations,” Frazier said. “‘OK here’s where we are, this is what we’ve got to do to get better,’ and that’s kind of my approach.”