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Pac-12 Men’s Track Title Preview, Part 2: Bruins Back?

UCLA has a great opportunity to win its first men's track and field championship since 2004

Posted on April 29, 2023

  By Steve Ritchie, SuperWest Sports

UCLA has one of the best historical resumes in track and field: 15 NCAA championships (eight men’s and seven women’s); 10 world champions; 76 Olympians and 71 individual NCAA outdoor champions.

Pac-12Legendary coaches Ducky Drake, Jim Bush, and Bob Larsen developed athletes such as Jackie Joyner-Kersey, Gail Devers, Ato Boldin, Meb Keflezghi, and Rafer Johnson and produced some of the best teams in Pac-10/12 history.

Bob Larsen’s men’s teams won two NCAA titles and went 118-3 in dual meets, while Jim Bush coached teams won five national championships.

The only flaw in this historical record is that most of the achievements are in the previous century. The last Bruins men’s team to win an NCAA title was in 1988, though the women’s team won in 2004.

The last UCLA men’s team to win the Pac-10/12 was in 2004; three years later, UCLA finished second to Oregon, which then went on to record 15 straight conference titles.

Can Bruins Reclaim Conference Title Before Leaving for Big 10?
Last week’s column examined whether the Oregon men would continue their streak, and the answer was an emphatic no. But if not Oregon, then who?

The U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) puts out weekly rankings during the track season, which are based solely on the current best marks of each school’s athletes recorded in the current season.

With just two weeks to go until the Pac-12 championships, UCLA is ranked first, followed by Washington and California. Perennial contender Southern Cal is sixth, while the 15-time defending champion Ducks are ninth.

If UCLA wins the men’s title this year, it will be because their team is built on its quarter-milers, just as it was a few decades back with Steve Lewis, John Smith, Wayne Collett, and others.

Remarkably, UCLA currently has five of the top eight 400-meter runners in the conference, led by Ismail Turner who has run 45.33.

UCLA's Ismail Turner | UCLA Athletics
UCLA’s 400-meter runner Ismail Turner | UCLA Athletics

Willington Wright, Cameron Reynolds, and Myles Misener-Daley have all run under 46 seconds this season as well.

So it is no surprise that the Bruins are ranked No. 1 in the nation in the 400, and their 4 x 400 relay time of 2:59.25 is the third-best time nationally.

The Bruins also are strong in the 100, 200, and 110 hurdles. They also boast the top triple jumper and third-best long jumper in the conference, Jalyn Jackson.

While not traditionally a distance powerhouse, UCLA has regularly produced some quality distance runners on the men’s team.

This year they have Ronan McMahon-Staggs, number two in the 1500, and Peter Herold, number two in the 3000-meter steeplechase.

UCLA distance runner Ronan McMahon-Staggs | UCLA Athletics

UCLA made a splash in distance running circles last year when Head Coach Avery Anderson hired Sean Brosnan to guide the Bruin distance runners.

Brosnan was previously the coach at Newbury Park High School. With Brosnan at the helm, Newbury Park became a national powerhouse, and Brosnan was twice selected as National High School Coach of the Year.

Brosnan’s teams were historically good. Weldon Johnson, co-founder of the popular site, went so far as to proclaim Brosnan as, “the greatest boys high school cross country coach and long-distance track coach ever.”

Hired last July, Brosnan hasn’t had time to make a huge impact yet.

In fact, his best runners at Newbury Park have mostly gravitated to Northern Arizona—and have been the major factor in NAU’s continued cross-country success.

But his reputation and coaching chops are likely to reel in some top talent in the coming years.

Next Up: Taking on the Trojans
The UCLA-USC dual meet is arguably the greatest dual meet rivalry in college track and field, and fans turn out for it. This year it will be at Drake Stadium on the UCLA campus on Sunday, April 30.

Both teams go all out to win, and it is usually close. The Bruin men lead the series 45-42 (the UCLA women also lead 22-15 over USC), but the Trojans have made major inroads in recent years.

usc logoIn 2022 it was a USC sweep, with the Trojan men dominating in a 114-42 thrashing of the Bruins, and the Trojan women taking the win, 93-70.

USC can match UCLA’s strength in the sprints. The Trojans have four sprinters in the top ten in the 200, and they have the top two high hurdlers in the conference.

The Bruins have an edge in the throwing events, especially the discus. The 800 and the triple jump could be decisive if either team can manage a 1-2 finish.

My hope is that it comes down to the 4 x 400 relay, the last event in the meet, and one that awards five points to the winner and none to the loser.

If UCLA truly is “back” as a track and field power, they should emerge with a narrow victory and build momentum for the Pac-12 Championships.

—More from Steve Ritchie—