The USC track and field team’s indoor season began weeks ago, but its focus remains on the sunny outdoor skies.
Despite the fact that several members of the team have already competed in several indoor invitationals, USC Director of track and field Ron Allice says the season has yet to begin.
“Our focus is absolutely on the outdoor season,” Allice says. “We won’t put our best combinations forward until later.”
That outdoor season begins Saturday when USC will compete in the Claremont Rossi Relays in Claremont, Calif., and begin its march toward what Allice hopes will be another top-10 season for the Trojans.
“Our goal is always to be in the top 10 programs in the country and finish higher than we did the previous year,” Allice said. “In addition, our expectation is always to win the UCLA dual meet.”
Entering his 16th year at the helm of the Trojans track team, Allice has plenty of reasons to believe his team will accomplish those goals in 2010. The team returns 14 All-Americans and 22 athletes already ranked in USC’s all-time top 10 for a variety of events.
Among those athletes is senior sprinter Ahmad Rashad, who finished second in the 100-meter dash at the NCAA championships with the fourth best time in Trojan history at 10.10 seconds. Sophomore Joey Hughes, who finished second in the 400-meter dash at both the Pac-10 championships and the NCAA West Regionals, joins Rashad at the core of USC’s talented group of sprinters.
On the women’s side, Dalilah Muhammad, who last year took third place in the 400 hurdles at the NCAA championships as a freshman, returns to lead USC’s women sprinters. Muhammad was also part of the 4×400-meter relay team that took sixth at the NCAA championships. That team returns all four members, including seniors Shalina Clarke, Elizabeth Olear and Myra Hasson.
However, sprints shouldn’t be the only strength for the 2010 Trojans. Allice has always prided himself on having a well-rounded team, as opposed to having what he calls “pockets” — a focus on one area of the team while the others get left behind.
“You cannot neglect any aspect of the program,” Allice said. “A lot of other schools have their ‘flag,’ like Washington and Oregon do with their distance runners. We’re going to have everything.”
USC’s field competitors also made splashes at last year’s marquee meets. Senior Manjula Wijesekara finished third in the high jump at the NCAA championships, while seniors Aaron Dan and Colin Campbell each emerged as two of the best discus throwers in the West region last season.
For the women, junior Zsofia Erdelyi, who holds the USC all-time records in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and the 5,000 and 10,000-meter races, leads the distance squad. Junior Kristine Busa leads the women’s field athletes as the team’s best javelin thrower, finishing eighth at the NCAA championships last year and earning All-American status.
With a talented team like the one Allice has, it’s easy to get excited early. But the veteran director says the team understands that the season itself is a marathon, not a sprint.
“Everything is a stepping stone and progression towards the Dual Meet, the NCAA regionals, the NCAA finals and nationals,” Allice said. “We target from the middle of May until June. Everything else is a stepping stone towards being our best at that time in the season.”