On Sunday, the UCLA track and field team will have a chance to leave its USC counterparts feeling blue in more ways than one.
The Trojans will be guaranteed a change of scenery when they enter the all-new blue track in Drake Stadium for the 81st installment of the UCLA-USC dual meet this weekend.
“Whenever you come to a track that you’ve been to four or five times and then you get there it’s all brand-new, that makes it a little different,” said senior pole vaulter Mike Woepse. “There’ll be a shock value for them, but they’ll be ready to compete.”
While the initial shock of Drake Stadium’s new color scheme may eventually wear off for the visiting team, there’s another adjustment that might prove a little harder to shake off for the Trojans.
For 19 years, John Henry Johnson Jr. served as the assistant coach for the Trojans, helping to build a sprinting dynasty with the school. But this year, the coach, along with many of the Trojan athletes, will be seeing things from a very different perspective, as Johnson has become the Bruin women’s track and field coach and continues his first year at his alma mater.
Despite the extensive amount of time spent and personal relationships built over at USC, there’s only one color Johnson will be representing on Sunday.
“The important thing to remember is that it’s these kids in blue that are my No. 1 concern,” Johnson said.
During Johnson’s tenure at USC, the program developed a reputation for its performance in the sprinting events with standouts such as 2012 Olympic silver medalist Bryshon Nellum and even put an exclamation mark on that statement by clinching all four relay events in last year’s dual meet.
But the history books that chronicle the UCLA-USC dual meet will also tell a different tale of how UCLA had also shown dominance in its own pet event – pole vault.
For the past two years, the Bruin men’s pole vault squad has prevented the Trojans from scoring any points in the event by grabbing all top-three finishes.
This year, the lineup of Woepse, redshirt junior Scott Cook and junior Mark Sakioka look set to make it a three-peat of taking all three top spots.
“We got our core three guys,” Woepse said. “We’re all pumped for this meet and we’re all expecting to sweep it. We take a lot of pride in doing that, especially against a team like ‘SC.”
On the women’s side, that scenario of three straight years of dominance over the Trojans was already accomplished last year. But come Sunday, the team will have to manage without two of last year’s top four finishers after losing alumnae Allison Koressel and Liz Goodrich to graduation last year.
The Bruins, however, may already have found a suitable replacement in junior Elena Clarke, whose constant improvements of her personal record throughout the year has seen her take her place as the second-ranked female Bruin pole vaulter behind senior Natasha Kolbo, as they look to connect four straight years of sweeps against the Trojan pole vaulters.
“We have a huge pole vault program here, and they don’t; it is definitely our duty to get all top-three spots in pole vault,” Clarke said. “All five of us that are competing right now for UCLA, we can all go 13 feet. … We should definitely sweep that and get all the points there.”
There may be many different storylines headed into Sunday’s affair between the two teams, but there’s one that stands out the most: It’s UCLA v. USC again. And seeing the letters of a crosstown rival is usually enough to bring out the competitor in each athlete – no matter which team he or she may be representing.