One Bruin thrower may be biased, but his squad backs him up.
“Throwers are the heart and soul of the UCLA track and field team,” said redshirt senior thrower Dotun Ogundeji.
UCLA track and field leads the Pac-12 with six throwers notching top 20 distances in at least one event. The Bruins have just three other athletes in the track and field program with national top 20 marks.
“We are pushing to make it similar to the old days when you couldn’t mention throwing without mentioning UCLA,” Ogundeji said.
Throws coach John Frazier – a member of the UCLA throwing team of the mid-1980s – said the onus shifts from qualifying to now scoring points.
“They can’t just say ‘Alright, we’re qualified,’” Frazier said. “They’ve got to get the attitude like ‘Okay, not only are we going to be there, (but) we’ve got to score points.’”
The men’s portion of the UCLA track and field team is ranked first among Pac-12 schools and 20th nationally by the NCAA track and field rating index.
Three UCLA throwers – Ogundeji, sophomore Nate Esparza and freshman Otito Ogbonnia – sit third, 13th and 15th, respectively, among the best distances thrown in the NCAA this year and are in qualifying position for NCAA West regionals. Junior Simon Litzell rounded out the top 20 male Bruin throwers at 13th in the nation with a javelin toss of 71.24 meters.
Ogundeji said his plan for this season is coming together after he missed last year’s NCAA championships.
“We have a great group of guys that have similar goals in mind which is to simply take over,” Ogundeji said.
Ogundeji’s shot put personal record of 21.05 meters from Saturday at the Rafer Johnson/Jackie Joyner-Kersee Invitational would have defeated last year’s NCAA shot put champion – Georgia’s Denzel Comenentia – by roughly 0.44 meters. Comenentia’s best mark this season trails Ogundeji’s by just under 0.87 meters.
Despite improving two places and roughly 2 1/2 feet at the NCAA indoor championships in March, Ogundeji said he was expecting more. Frazier said he’s seen the success Ogundeji expected come to fruition outdoors.
“One thing I told (Ogundeji) was ‘Failure brings about success,’” Frazier said. “It was hard to not do well indoors and it allowed him to take a different mindset coming out to outdoors. What he should’ve done indoors, he sees it happening and I think that’s going to be part of his legacy.”
Sophomore thrower Alyssa Wilson was the only woman in the country to qualify for NCAA championships in three events. Frazier said consistency will be important for Wilson in the run-up to NCAAs.
“(It’s key) that she continually has a confidence that she can be the best,” Frazier said.
On Saturday, Wilson shattered her own record and the Drake Stadium record in the hammer throw, was an official’s ruling away from a new shot put record and defeated the next best competitor in the discus field by almost 10 meters.
Wilson is in the top 15 in each of her events – the shot put, discus and hammer throw – and could qualify for the NCAA championships in three outdoor events in the first two years of her college career.
“This point going forward I need to focus on the little cues in each specific event so that I’m able to perform in all three when the meets come up,” Wilson said.
Senior throwers Justin Stafford and Ashlie Blake are also in position to qualify for NCAA West regionals in the hammer throw and shot put, respectively.