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UCLA track and field to take on NCAA indoor championships, Ben Brown Invitational

Sophomore distance runner Mia Kane will compete in the outdoor 1,500-meter race for the first time this season as the UCLA track and field outdoor season commences this weekend. (Jeremy Chen/Assistant Photo editor)

By Rahaf Abumansour and Sam Schuette

March 10, 2023 4:07 p.m.

NCAA indoor championships

As one season comes to a close for the Bruins, another commences.

The UCLA track and field athletes who qualified for the NCAA indoor track and field championships will travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the nationals meet this weekend. Meanwhile, others will head to the Ben Brown Invitational hosted by Cal State Fullerton for their first outdoor meet of 2023.

A handful of athletes from different events will represent the Bruins at the indoor championship.

“The most exciting thing is that we are the first heat to compete, so we are the guys that will put the time to beat, and I’m excited to compete with all the other heats,” said senior Myles Misener-Daley. “Hopefully, we get to come as the underdogs and do something big and impressive.”

Misener-Daley is one of four athletes who run the 4 x 400 men’s relay. This squad – including graduate student Willington Wright, junior Antoine Nortje and senior Ismail Turner – continued to outperform itself throughout the season, qualifying with an indoor school record 3:03.48 at the Don Kirby Invitational on Feb. 11 to break the previous mark of 3:05.03 it established three weeks earlier at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Collegiate Invitational.

Similarly, the women of Westwood have qualified for the 4 x 400-meter relay and the distance medley.

The Bruins have flipped the script from their previous season. In 2022, they sent one team to the NCAA indoor championships: the women’s 4 x 400 relay team, who finished sixth in 3:33.32 seconds. This year, UCLA touts more versatility with more qualifiers representing the blue and gold.

Coach Avery Anderson said he recognizes the talent his team has demonstrated throughout the regular season, whether the players are competing or not.

“All of the athletes that are going have been claiming their ride to the top of the event groups but within those groups as well,” Anderson said. “In the relay sprints, both relays qualified in the 4 x 400 m relays, and the group ran very well.”

Redshirt sophomore Yanla Ndjip-Nyemeck will headline the Bruins’ 60-meter hurdles. The Cal State Northridge transfer qualified with a time of 8.07 and has finished in the top 10 in all eight 60-meter hurdle events this indoor season.

The one-mile semifinal will conclude Monday’s action for junior Ronan McMahon-Staggs. He was the first Bruin to break four minutes and has achieved this in three straight indoor races. At the Arkansas qualification on Feb. 17, McMahon-Staggs ran a 3:54.93, the fastest one-mile time by a Bruin indoors or outdoors.

Anderson said the Bruins recognize the caliber of talent awaiting them on the national stage and are looking forward to showcasing their elite ability.

“It’s pretty easy to stay motivated for the biggest meet of the indoor season even though it falls right at the beginning of the outdoor season,” Anderson said. “The NCAA is big, so there is nothing really that I have to do to keep them motivated. They have been preparing for this for the whole indoor season, and they are very excited.”

Misener-Daley added that the grind of the regular season helped him and his team sharpen their skills at the optimal time in the postseason.

“I think indoor meets have not only prepared me but also my team because we have had so much competition and times to get the small things correct,” Misener-Daley said

Ben Brown Invitational

Making the shift from indoor to outdoor poses a challenge with a novel environment of competition. The track is a different length, weather becomes a factor, and some athletes run events for the first time all season. Anderson attested to the unique challenges ahead for the blue and gold.

“Most of the people that we have competed in (the Ben Brown Invitational) are competing in events that did not get contested indoors,” Anderson said. “Things like the discus, the javelin, the hammer throw, the 400 hurdles – that’s where it’s tricky because instead of a transition from indoors to outdoors, it’s your first track meet of the season in those events.”

Sophomore distance runner Mia Kane said the meet allows the team to assess its strength in events that it hasn’t raced during this calendar year. After exclusively running the 3,000-meter during her indoor season, Kane will have the chance to compete in the outdoor 1,500-meter race.

“People are just feeling it out,” Kane said. “A lot of people aren’t racing their specific events. If you train for 5Ks, maybe that athlete will run a 1,500. So I think people are trying to gauge fitness after a long season of indoor, where not that many people got a chance to race.”

Anderson added that the first outdoor meet is a chance for his athletes to gauge the competition against themselves.

“This is what you’d call a rust-buster,” Anderson said. “Some of our freshmen are contesting events that they haven’t done before at all. So it’s neat to feel out the competition. Not necessarily the people you’re competing against, but the competition against yourself and against the event.”

Aside from the differences in events between seasons, there’s also a different road to qualifying for the outdoor national championships in June.

The Pac-12 has no indoor conference meet but has both an outdoor conference and regional meet that athletes can use to qualify for nationals. Anderson compared the two pathways.

“The scope of the indoor season is very narrow when it comes to qualifying for the one championship,” Anderson said. “We don’t have an actual indoor conference championship, whereas outdoors is a little more forgiving.”

Kane outlined some of the long-term goals for the outdoor season for both herself and the team. The sophomore posted the Bruins’ second-best seasonal mark in both the 3,000-meter during the recent indoor season and the 6,000-meter during the cross country season.

“Our team is looking super competitive,” Kane said. “My goal for outdoor is to get a regional mark. And I think that, as a whole, our team has super high expectations for ourselves this year. We’ve been putting in the work, and it’s going to be exciting to watch it pay off.”

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