UCLA track and field currently has 13 athletes sitting in national championship-qualifying spots, and there are a few more on the bubble as the team prepares for the Pac-12 championships at Stanford this weekend.
Of the 13 athletes currently in qualifying positions, 10 of them are field athletes. Every event advances the top 48 athletes to the national championships except for the heptathlon and sprint relays, which advance only the top 24 athletes and teams.
Junior Justin Stafford, who has won five out of six meets in the men’s hammer throw this season, currently sits 32nd in the nation after uncorking a new PR of 213 feet against USC, placing him sixth all-time in UCLA’s history.
“I am taking the flight to Stanford to win,” Stafford said. “My time is now and I’m here to win.”
Assistant coach John Frazier, who works exclusively with the throwers, cautioned his athletes against feeling too comfortable despite hitting their regional qualifying marks prior to this weekend’s meet.
“Even though you’ve qualified for regionals, you really want to go out and compete and score points,” Frazier said. “We’re not fully backed off for the meet, but it’s very important for them to approach the meet the same way we approached the USC meet.”
Senior Myles Smith, who is 42nd in the men’s 10,000-meter run, senior Joe Herrera, who is 48th in the men’s 400-meter dash, and junior Robert Brandt, who is 48th in the men’s 5,000-meter run and 21st in the men’s 10,000-meter run, are the only Bruin track athletes who currently occupy national championship qualifying spots.
Brandt, who transferred to UCLA from Cal at the start of the school year, has found the change to be a smooth transition.
“The goal is to go out and see what I can do,” Brandt said. “I’m think I have the (No. 1) 10K in the Pac-12 right now, so it’s just pride on the line.”
In addition to Smith, Herrera and Brandt, there are four other track athletes and one field athlete who are within 20 spots of the 48th qualifying spot in their event.
Though currently 61st in the triple jump, junior CJ Alumbres is only 3.5 inches off the 48th-place spot.
Distance runners on the bubble include junior George Gleason and sophomore John Carter Blunt, who rank 50th and 67th, respectively, in the men’s 1,500-meter run. Their current season PRs are .07 and .63 seconds, respectively, behind the current 48th-best 1,500-meter time in the nation.
Sophomore Riley Kelly, who is 64th in the men’s 800-meter run, is 0.23 seconds behind 48th in his event, while 54th-ranked senior Daniel De La Torre is 1.82 seconds behind 48th in the men’s 5,000-meter run.
“It’s been humbling to be a part of this great group, distance has been pretty strong this year,” Brandt said. “We’ll go out there and showcase all the training and hard work we’ve put in.”
Junior Ashlie Blake is ranked third in the nation in women’s shot put, senior Jessie Maduka is ranked sixth in the women’s triple jump, and triple threat freshman Alyssa Wilson is ranked 11th, 20th and 24th in the women’s shot put, discus and hammer throw, respectively.
Senior Kendall Gustafson, who finished second at Pac-12 Multis last weekend, is ranked sixth in the nation in the heptathlon and 22nd in the women’s high jump. She is joined in the high jump by sophomore Mikella Lefebvre-Oatis, who is ranked 46th heading into the weekend. Freshman Ilaria Casarotto is ranked 43rd in the nation in the women’s javelin.
For the men, sophomores Marian Spannowsky and Simon Litzell are 15th and 26th, respectively, in the men’s javelin, while senior Idrees Bernard is 39th in the men’s triple jump.
The Pac-12 championships will start Saturday and finish Sunday.