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NCAA Track & Field Preview: West Coast Athletes to Watch

SEC teams should dominate but several regional performers have shots at individual titles

Posted on June 4, 2024

  By Steve Ritchie, SuperWest Sports

Given the 56 outdoor NCAA championships that Pac-12 Conference teams have won in the past century, it would be fitting if one or more Pac-12 teams joined the hunt for a final title.

Sadly, the odds don’t appear good for that this week at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon.

According to the experts at Track & Field News, USC is projected to finish eighth and Washington 10th in the men’s competition.

Northern Arizona is the highest-ranked western team at sixth.

On the women’s side, Oregon is projected to finish fifth—the highest predicted placing for the Pac-12 or a team from the west.

The Ducks could definitely out-perform and sneak into a top-four finish but have lost to injury two athletes who would have scored.

Oregon now doesn’t appear to have the firepower to contend with the four SEC teams projected to finish above them.

But there will still be plenty of Pac-12 and Western U.S. athletes with realistic shots of individual titles.

Here’s a look at 11 of those athletes.

West Coast Women Contenders
Oregon shot putter Jaida Ross
Oregon shot putter Jaida Ross | Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard

Jaida Ross, Oregon, Shot Put & Discus

Lightly recruited out of high school, Ross came to Oregon with a prep shot best of 48-5 and began to steadily improve. This outdoor season she exploded, setting a new college record in the shot, 64-8 (19.71) in April.

She tied that mark a couple of weeks later, and then re-set the record at the West Regionals to 65-7¾ (20.01), making her the first collegian over 65 feet as well as 20 meters.

The Olympics are a strong possibility as Ross currently ranks second in the U.S.—by one inch—and fifth in the world.

Hana and Amanda Moll, Washington, Pole Vault

Washington pole vaulter Hana Moll
Hana Moll
Probably the only slightly negative thing you can say about the Moll twins is that they have not yet surpassed their high school personal records in the pole vault.

Washington poll vaulter Amanda Moll
Amanda Moll

That doesn’t mean their short collegiate careers haven’t been sensational, just that their high school marks were that incredible.

The two UW freshmen hold nine of the top ten junior marks all-time in the event, with Hana slightly ahead of her sister with a PR of 15-3 to Amanda’s indoor PR of 15-1½.

They went 1-2 at the Pac-12 Championships in May and could repeat that finish at NCAAs, though they will get stiff competition from Chloe Timberg of Rutgers, who has a best of 15-1.

Jasmine Jones, USC, 400 Hurdles

USC hurdler Jasmine Jones
As if the U.S. wasn’t already good enough in the long hurdles race, here comes another young woman to chase after Sydney McLoughlin-Levrone, Dalilah Muhammed, Shamier Little, et. al.

The USC junior had herself quite the day at the Pac-12s, winning the 100 hurdles as well as the 400 hurdles. She became the seventh-fastest collegian of all time with her time of 53.87 in Boulder, winning by a huge margin of 1.5 seconds.

It will be interesting to see if Jones, currently ranked third overall among American women, can beat or come close to that time at NCAAs.

Roisin Willis, Stanford, 800 meters

Stanford runner Roisin Willis
Willis won’t be the favorite in the NCAA 800; that honor will go to LSU’s Michaela Rose, who looks close to being unbeatable at the collegiate level.

But it is great to see the former prep standout, now a sophomore at The Farm, return to her previous outstanding form. As a Wisconsin high schooler, she ran 1:59.13, making her the fourth fastest U.S. junior ever.

Her teammate and fellow sophomore, Juliette Whittaker, ranks just ahead of Willis on the junior list and was one-hundredth of a second behind her at the West Regional meet.

West Coast Men Contenders
UW’s Green, Waskom, and Houser | courtesy Hannah Waskom

Joe Waskom, Nathan Green. Luke Houser Washington, 1500 meters

The Husky trio has swept all the NCAA 1500/Mile championship races in the past two seasons, indoors and outdoors. Waskom won the 2022 race and finished second to Green in 2023. Houser won the last two indoor championships.

With all the distance talent in the college ranks these days, both homegrown and international, that kind of dominance by one group of teammates is incredible.

Coach and mile guru Andy Powell is certainly one part of that but so is the camaraderie the UW milers have going. Can they pull it off again?

Nico Young, Northern Arizona, 5000 meters

Northern Arizona distance runner Nico Young
A double winner at NCAA Indoors in the 3000 and 5000, Young is putting his outdoor chips in the latter race. Just under three months ago, Young rocketed to the all-time college top ranking in the 10000 meters, running 26:52.72 to set the record.

On the season, he ranks second in the U.S. in the longer race just a second behind leader Grant Fisher. But his move to the 5K at NCAAs is likely to boost his chances of making the U.S. Olympic Team in the 10K.

In any case, he is just as good in the 5000 with an indoor PR and college record of 12:57.14.

Johnnie Blockburger, USC, 400 meters

USC's Johnnie Blockburger
The Pac-12 has continued to boast great quarter-milers in recent years, following in the footsteps of Otis Davis, Quincy Watts, John Smith, Danny Everett, and Michael Norman.

ASU’s Justin Robinson is one of them and Blockburger is another.

The USC senior looks ready to challenge for the 400 title in Eugene, coming off a superlative performance at the Pac-12s with a PR 44.51 at high altitude in Boulder and a slightly wind-aided 20.19 200. Plus running on both the 4×100 and 4×400 relays.

Whatever chance USC has in the team race will rest on his shoulders, the two relays and the next athlete on my list.

Johnny Brackins Jr., USC, Long Jump & 110 Hurdles

USC's Johnny Brackins Jr.
Brackins Jr.
Brackins Jr. has been a little inconsistent in the latter stages of this season, but can’t be counted out in the long jump.

He won the long jump at the West Regional semifinals at 26-9, just off his PR of 27-0 (8.23m), which he set while winning the U.S. Indoor title.

But at Pac-12s he only placed fourth with a subpar leap of 24-11¾. The talented junior is also a very good hurdler, and qualified for NCAAs in the 110s; it would be a bonus for USC if he scores in the hurdles in Eugene.

—More from Steve Ritchie—