For the second straight year, UCLA’s track and field team will be represented solely by field athletes at the NCAA Division I Indoor Championships.
The Bruins will send redshirt junior Ashlie Blake, freshman Alyssa Wilson, sophomore Nate Esparza and redshirt junior Dotun Ogundeji to compete in the shot put. Senior triple jumper Jessie Maduka rounds out the field as the only nonthrower representing UCLA.
The throwers representing UCLA this weekend have finished no lower than sixth in any one event this season and their average placement was 2.73 on the year.
The athletes attribute much of their success to the throws coach, John Frazier, who was the only staff member to return this season after Avery Anderson, the director of track and field and cross country, was appointed to lead UCLA’s track and field program.
“It was a sigh of relief (when Frazier returned) because we’ve built such a great relationship with him,” Blake said.
Frazier has high hopes for his athletes as the weekend approaches.
“I know everyone’s been working hard and I know all the preparation that has been geared toward this meet,” Frazier said. “I’m really proud of the hard work (the athletes) put in, but now they have to put it together to do the things that they’re ready to do.”
Of the four throwers that UCLA is sending to the national championships, only one, Ogundeji, has experience on the championship stage, as he enters his third collegiate indoor national championship appearance. Esparza, Blake and Wilson are all making their indoor national championship debuts.
Entering the weekend, Blake and Wilson are ranked ninth and 10th, respectively, in the women’s shot put while Esparza and Ogundeji are ranked 12th and 14th in the nation, respectively, in the men’s.
“With the new coaching staff, we were trying to prove a point,” Ogundeji said. “We’re ready for the bigger challenge. … We have all the correct pieces and we’re just trying to put them together.”
In addition to strong performances across the board from the throwers, Maduka has also posted impressive results this season. She enters this weekend ranked No. 4 in the nation in the triple jump with a season- and school-best mark of 45-1.
Though this is also Maduka’s debut at the NCAA Division I Indoor Championships, she is no stranger to high-stakes competitions. Maduka competed at the U23 European Championships over the summer in the triple jump for her home country of Germany, where she qualified for the finals and finished eighth in the competition.
The team will be competing Friday and Saturday at College Station, Texas.