The beautiful 90-degree weather in Eugene, Ore. inspired the USC track team to rise up from the bottom last weekend, earning a collective 165 points with the men taking first place and women taking third place in the 2009 West Regional.
The men’s team ended the first day of competition in fourth place, but managed to score 80 points on the final day, bringing their total to 97, which was 16.25 more than the runner-up and the host of the meet, the Oregon Ducks. According to USC director of track and field Ron Allice, however, the sole agenda was to get individual athletes to the NCAA Championships.
“We did what we had to do to qualify for the national championship,” Allice said. “There wasn’t an area of the sport that we didn’t perform. Outside of the dual-meet against the Bruins, this was probably our most stellar meet. Fifty schools in the U.S. competed, and for us to score almost 100 points based on qualifying procedure is great.”
The NCAA Championship, which will take place June 10-13 in Fayetteville, Ark., required the track athletes to meet certain requirements to qualify. The athletes needed to finish in the top five in each area of the sport, except for relays where they needed to get into the top 3. USC earned its way to Arkansas with 13 individual athletes and four relay teams.
Junior Shalina Clarke won the title in the women’s 100-meter high hurdles (and earned the team 10 points in the women’s competition) and junior Ahmad Rashad took the men’s 100-meter dash title. The Trojans also grasped two other winning titles with the men’s 4x100m and 4x400m relay teams.
Along with the accolades received by the Trojans, they experienced a bit of concern when freshman Duane Walker ended the 4x400m relay falling to the track with a shoulder injury. X-rays were negative.
The men’s team was not the only team that came from behind to excel; the women’s team rose from seventh place on the first day of competition to finish third behind Arizona State and Oregon.
The Women of Troy began the competition with the 4x100m relay team, freshmen Aareon Payne and Erica Alexander and juniors Shalina Clarke and Judith Onyepunuka, who were timed at 44.81. They were slated to take fourth place, but when the Ducks were ruled out of zone during their run, the Women of Troy were moved up to third place, which gave them enough points to take it to Arkansas for the championship.
“Going through the results and the numbers of qualifiers, you can see that we all were missing the multi-event and 10,000-meter athletes, who didn’t have to go through this meet because of the closeness to regionals and finals,” Allice said. “Oregon didn’t have their multi-event and 10,000 meter people. The goal of everyone in the meet was to break up the Oregon ‘distance-machine’, and to do that in a qualifying meet and to score as well as we did, we surprised a lot of people.”
Leaving Oregon this weekend, the Trojans have a significantly large group of competitors getting ready for the championship in Arkansas in a couple weeks, and Allice said he believes they have all the pieces needed to excel in the finals.
“We’re going to go with large contingent of young people; around 15-17 guys and 13 girls,” he said. “That’s some good sizeable numbers to go to a national championship with. Our team is really focused and I am really proud of their continued excellence.”
The Trojan athletes qualifying for the NCAA Championships are: Nia Ali (heptathlon), Nate Anderson (400m), Kristine Busa (javelin), Shalina Clarke (100m high hurdles), Zsofia Erdelyi (3000m steeplechase), Brandon Estrada (pole vault), Joey Hughes (400m), Dalilah Muhammad (400m intermediate hurdles), Eva Orban (hammer), Aareon Payne (200m), Ahmad Rashad (100m), Irek Sekretarski (800m), Blake Shaw (800m), Oscar Spurlock (110m HH), Corey White (javelin), Manjula Wijesekara (high jump), Aven Wright (triple jump) and both the men’s and women’s 4x100m and 4x400m relay teams.