Tuesday, June 18

Track and field demonstrates strongest performance in years at NCAA championship

Sophomore thrower Alyssa Wilson was the only female athlete to earn the First Team All-American honors in three separate events at the NCAA championship. She is among the five Bruins who earned that status last weekend in Austin, Texas. (Lauren Man/Daily Bruin)

Sophomore thrower Alyssa Wilson was the only female athlete to earn the First Team All-American honors in three separate events at the NCAA championship. She is among the five Bruins who earned that status last weekend in Austin, Texas. (Lauren Man/Daily Bruin)

The Bruins had their most successful championship weekend in six years.

Five UCLA track and field athletes earned First Team All-American honors in eight events at the NCAA championship in Austin, Texas, from June 5 to 8. The No. 11 men’s team finished the weekend with 16 points – good for an 18th-place finish overall, and up 48 spots from last year’s 66th-place finish. Four athletes from the men’s team were named First Team All-Americans, the highest first-team count since 2006.

“(Scoring as high as UCLA did) was definitely the highlight of the meet,” said junior distance runner Robert Brandt. “Just knowing the points that I got in the (10,000-meter) were contributing to a greater team effort. So to come away with an 18th-place finish as a team is exciting and just a testament to the work (track and field director Avery Anderson) has been putting in the program.”

Anderson was awarded NCAA West Men’s Regional Coach of the Year earlier in the week after the Bruins qualified 20 athletes for the NCAA championship – the program’s most since the 2009 season.

Brandt held a lead in the penultimate lap of the race thanks to a 1 minute, 10.61 second split but eventually fell back and finished in seventh place, collapsing to his knees once he passed the finish line with a time of 29:26.34. Brandt’s finish secured his second career First Team All-American title in the 10,000-meter.

“I went into the race with the mentality to win it,” Brandt said. “I thought my best chance at doing that would be to take the lead 800 (meters) out … and (I) came up a little short and faded in the last lap. I’m pretty satisfied knowing that I put it all out there and I had nothing left.”

Brandt’s seventh-place finish marked his third First Team All-American award this season. His first two honors came from his two eighth-place finishes in the 5,000- and 3,000-meter races at the NCAA indoor championship in March.

Sophomore thrower Alyssa Wilson became the first three-time First Team All-American in UCLA history since the award’s implementation. She was the only female athlete at the NCAA championship to earn First Team All-American honors in all three individual events she competed in.

“That’s been one of my goals ever since coming to UCLA,” Wilson said. “I’ve always wanted to prove to myself and others that I can excel in all events that I (compete in).”

Wilson accounted for all 10 of the women’s points, placing seventh in both the shot put and discus and third in the hammer throw.

At last year’s NCAA championship, Wilson was the first UCLA freshman to earn First Team All-American honors in two events – the hammer and shot put – since former Olympian Monique Henderson did so in the 400-meter dash and the 4-x-400 relay back in 2002. This year, Wilson was the first Bruin to notch three top-seven finishes since hurdler and sprinter Sheena Johnson in 2004.

Wilson fouled out on all three of her discus throws at last year’s NCAA championship. This year she came away with a 56.70-meter toss on her sixth and final attempt to tack on two points to the women’s tally.

Wilson said it was a relief to see her first throw fly between the chalked lines.

“I think (last year’s discus) was in the back of my mind,” Wilson said. “I can’t foul my first throw. It always has to be, ‘I have to get one (fair).’”

Redshirt senior thrower Dotun Ogundeji was the only other Bruin to receive First-Team All-American honors in multiple events after fourth- and fifth-place launches of 60.35 meters and 19.73 meters in the discus and shot put, respectively.

UCLA’s shot put trio – the No. 1-ranked throwing event squad in the country – contributed six points to the Bruins’ total. Redshirt sophomore Nate Esparza placed seventh while and freshman Otito Ogbonnia finished 10th with a 19.44-meter throw that secured him Second Team All-American plaudits.

Freshman high jumper Sean Lee added three points to the men’s tally when he registered a collegiate personal-record clearance of 2.21 meters.

Lee said he entered competition relaxed and was able to jump to his fullest capability.

“I didn’t feel that much pressure,” Lee said. “Throughout the season I’d been holding back in some meets because of a lingering injury I had. (But) it’s the final meet of the season, (so) I can go all out without any regrets.”

Lee’s leap moved him up to fifth in UCLA’s all-time outdoor record books. His jump was the highest of any UCLA athlete since Lee Balkin’s 2.24-meter jump at the 1984 NCAA championship.

The Bruins also had five athletes earn Second Team All-American awards, including Brandt in the 5,000-meter, pole vaulters freshman Sondre Guttormsen and redshirt senior Elleyse Garrett, and throwers Ogbonnia and senior Justin Stafford.

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Sports reporter

Lavalsiti is currently a reporter on the women's basketball and track & field beats.

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