USC--Winner Of The Last Two Pac-10 Titles--Hungy For More
Jan. 25, 2001
The more things change, the more things stay the same.
As a new century dawns, the USC men's track and field program continues to add to its unmatched heritage.
The Trojans have won back-to-back Pac-10 team titles for the first time since 1976-77 (and they've captured three of the last four). Meanwhile, USC has finished in the top 10 at the NCAAs for seven consecutive years--its longest such stretch since 1966-72.
In these past seven years, several Trojans have etched their names into the lore of the program: Balazs Kiss won three of his four NCAA hammer titles and a gold medal in the 1996 Olympics, Jerome Davis won the 1998 NCAA 400m title, Felix Sanchez broke Tom Andrews' 24-year-old school record on his way to winning the 2000 NCAA 400m IH title, Jason Shelton (in1996) and Sultan McCullough (in 2000) earned USC's 48th and 49th All-American honors, respectively, in the 100m (dating back to 1930), and Dennis Kholev broke Dave Kenworthy's 1982 school record in the pole vault in 2000.
That's quite a 'track' record--one that USC Director of Track and Field Ron Allice hopes to continue in 2001. He is clear about one thing: it won't be easy.
'I'm not sure that we're as good as last year,' said Allice, who took the 2000 Trojans to a seventh place finish at the NCAAs. 'We have pretty good balance all around, but we're not as deep. However, we do have some people who, if they develop and mature, could make a big difference.'
One of the question marks for USC surrounds the status of several athletes who double as either football players or basketball players. The more contributions Allice gets from this group, the better he feels about the potential for the Trojans at the Pac-10s and NCAAs.
'We really are a team of 'ifs' right now,' Allice said. 'Depending on what the football players do, I may not have an idea until about mid-April as to what this team can do. However, if we have everyone at our disposal and they perform to the level they are capable of, we can be pretty good.'
Allice is enthusiastic about a 2001 schedule that promises to provide some of the best track meets in the country. On top of that, three of the meets will be hosted in USC's brand new Katherine B. Loker Stadium.
'It is very significant that we have a facility to represent the people who came before us,' noted Allice, referring to a USC track and field history that has produced 28 NCAA team titles and 61 world records. 'The stadium will have a huge impact on the university and the surrounding community. And we've got some great competition coming in with LSU, Texas and UCLA.'
USC potentially has one of the best collection of speedsters in the country. The group is led by junior Sultan McCullough (10.17), who earned All-American honors in 2000 in the 100m and ran the second leg on Troy's 400m relay squad that took fifth at the NCAAs. Sophomore Kareem Kelly (10.33) ran the anchor on USC's fastest 400m relay squad last season (39.18) and holds the world junior record in the indoor 50m (5.67). Sophomore Darrell Rideaux (10.37) ran the leadoff leg on that 400m relay squad. He also finished fifth in the 100m at the 2000 conference meet. Junior Miguel Fletcher (10.40), McCullough, Kelly and Rideaux all play football for the Trojans and will be limited on the track due to spring football practice. However, big things are expected of Barton (Kan.) Junior College transfer Devon Ward (10.28, 20.94) in the 100m and 200m. Senior Andre Ammons (20.81, 46.16), a two-time All-American, is USC's top threat in the 200m and 400m and a mainstay on both relays, while senior DeJon Joyner, a 1997 relay All-American, returns to bolster Troy's sprint corps after redshirting last season. Junior Rod Arzu will help out in the 400m and both he and Joyner could be a factor in the 1600m relay.
'I think track really complements Sultan McCullough,' said Allice. 'He's got world-class ability if he were to work at it full time. He's extremely gifted. If he stays healthy, there's no telling what he could run. What he did at the NCAAs last year, considering his injuries and the limited training time he had, was unbelievable. Kareem Kelly is another gifted sprinter who probably could be even better at the 200m than he is in the 100m. Darrell Rideaux is an excellent technician and as consistent as a clock. He's the type who never let's you down. Miguel Fletcher is a hard worker. If he gets his weight down, he could do well at the Pac-10 level. Devon Ward has good range. He can run everything from the 100m to the 400m. He comes from a high-powered junior college program, so he understands what competition is all about. If the fall is any kind of indication, he's someone who's going to be a big suprise. Andre Ammons was an iron man for us last year. He did a tremendous job. This year he will concentrate on his specialty, the 200m, but I feel that he can run 45 seconds in the 400m, so he'll run that, too. DeJon Joyner has the abillty to run 46 seconds in the 400m, while Rod Arzu has had a very good fall and could run under 47 seconds in the 400m if he puts it all together.'
Middle and Long Distances
The Trojans are improved in the distances after bringing in two promising athletes in junior 800m specialist Kevin Elliot (1:48.80) of El Camino College in Torrance, Calif., and Kenyan freshman runner Robert Kirwa (14:16.00), a 5000m runner. Sophomore Andrew Knutsen and junior Rob Ruiz add depth to this group.
'Kevin Elliot has the capability of being one of the better 800m runners in the conference,' said Allice. 'He may run the 400m and 1500m as well. Robert Kirwa will help us a lot in the distances. He could make a big difference for us in the dual and conference meets. Rob Ruiz stepped up and helped us a lot against UCLA last year, while Andrew Knutsen is our best all-around distance guy. He may run both the steeple and the 5000m.'
USC will be hard-pressed to replace 2000 NCAA 400m IH champ and school record-holder Felix Sanchez in the hurdles, but there is plenty of talent returning in that area. Sophomore Ryan Wilson (13.83w) is the defending Pac-10 110m HH champion, while sophomore Marcell Allmond (13.89w) finished second in that event and senior Djeke Mambo (13.93) placed fifth. Wilson most likely also will be called upon in the 400m IH and the 1600m relay. Allmond also is a receiver for USC's football team and is recovering from a broken leg suffered last fall, while Mambo is also one of the top triple and long jumpers in the Pac-10.
'We have the two top hurdlers in the Pac-10,' said Allice. 'However, we don't know how Allmond will be coming back from the broken leg. If he's healthy, he's a good one. He's an incredible athlete who is also a premier decathlete. We think Ryan Wilson is ready to make that jump and be an NCAA finisher in the 110m HH. He's made some adjustments in the fall that we think will help in the spring. We may ask him to help out in the 400m IH and the 1600m relay. It's a big load and how he handles that load may have a lot to do with how this team does.'
The pole vault is again in capable hands with senior Dennis Kholev (18-3), who is the school record holder in the event. He finished second at the Pac-10s last season and was a 1999 All-American. He has already vaulted 18-2 indoors in 2001. Sophomore Jeff Ryan (16-2) continues to develop.
'What more can I say about Dennis Kholev?' said Allice. 'He is our school-record holder. We just need him to get it done when it counts. He had an unbelievable fall and is in tremendous shape. He's one of the best in the country. Jeff Ryan improved last year but needs to continue to improve his speed to be a factor for us. If he can go another 8 inches, he'll be a factor.
The jumps are again in good hands with Djeke Mambo (25-0 1/2, 53-10 3/4). The senior from Belgium showed his versatility last season, placing in the finals of the long jump, triple jump and the 110m HH at the conference meet. His PR 53-10 3/4 is second on the all-time Trojan triple jump chart. Senior Justin Cox (51-2 1/4) transferred to USC from Wisconsin last season and did well, finishing fourth in the triple jump at the Pac-10s. If Troy can once again enlist the services of high jumper Jeff Trepagnier (7-1), who is a guard on the USC basketball team, the sky is the limit for the jumps crew. Trepagnier has finished second in the Pac-10 in the high jump for two years running and is fifth on the all-time Trojan high jump chart.....all with limited practice. Junior Kori Dickerson (6-8), yet another footballer (and a 230-pound linebacker at that!), provides USC more depth in the high jump. Freshman high jumper David Jaworski of Poland (7-3 3/4) and freshman long jumper Andre Serrette (23-9) of Colton, Calif., round out the jumps group.
'We are hoping Djeke Mambo will be an NCAA finalist,' said Allice.'We need him to stay healthy to be effective. He's our top jumps guy. Justin Cox was one of our most improved athletes and he came through well in the conference meet last year. Andre Serrette's development will be important to this group. Jeff Trepagnier is an amazing athlete who nearly won the Pac-10s last season and almost made it to the NCAA meet. Kori Dickerson has always been a loyal trooper. He's come out and helped us twice at the UCLA dual meet. And if David Jaworski is what we think he is, he'll be a Pac-10 and NCAA scorer.'
USC has been dominant in the throws in the Allice era, culminating in last year's performance at the Pac-10 Championships when the Trojans swept the top four spots in the hammer, came in second in the shot put and placed fourth in the discus. But the Trojans lose hammer throwers Szabolcs Maroti, David Spitz and Dagan Massey, each of whom are among the top 10 all-time at USC in that event, as well as Lucais MacKay, who threw both the discus and the hammer and placed among the top six in both at the Pac-10s last season. The top returning throwers are senior hammer thrower Norbert Horvath (241-11), a two-time All-American who finished fifth at the NCAA meet last year, and junior Van Mounts (62-6), who was the Pac-10 runner up in the shot. Horvath is second on the all-time USC hammer list, while Mounts is sixth on the shot put chart. Mounts can also throw the discus (154-0). Senior William O'Grady (186-0) is USC's top returning javelin thrower. Freshman footballers Travis Watkins and Nate Steinbacher will also contribute in the shot.
'Norbert Horvath is a great competitor,' said Allice. 'No one has been as consistent as he has at USC. He will once again be in the hunt for the NCAA title. Van Mounts has a chance to score at the NCAAs. He has developed every year he has been here. He did a good job last year. That experience of getting to the NCAA will help him. Javelin is a weak area of ours. It will depend upon the development of William O'Grady.'
There is some uncertainty in the decathlon due to the loss of 1998 All-American Danny Haag to graduation and the injury to sophomore Marcell Allmond. But the returners and the incoming recruits could make the Trojan decathlon program one of the best and deepest in the conference. Senior Casey Thompson (7106), who placed fifth at last year's Pac-10s, returns along with junior Russell Silvers (7047), who placed eighth at the conference meet. Junior Shelton Davis (6846), the 2000 California Junior College champion who comes to USC from Santa Ana College, junior Tell Hendren (6483) of Utah Valley State College and redshirt freshman Corey Fitzgibbon all will figure in the mix.
'The decathlon is a development area of ours,' said Allice. 'We lose Danny Haag and Marcell Allmond will not compete due to injury. With Casey Thompson and Russell Silvers, plus the new guys, we should have as good a decathlon program as there is in the conference. There's a lot of depth.'
The Trojans will be tested early and often in 2001. Allice is cautiously optimistic about what his team can become.
'A whole lot of things have to come together,' he said. 'If you add up the guys we have--McCullough, Ammons, Elliot, Kirwa, Wilson, Jaworski, Kholev, Mounts, Mambo, Horvath, plus the relay teams--and if those guys do what they are capable of, then we can once again be top 10 at the NCAAs and be the team to beat at the Pac-10s. But that's a whole lot of 'ifs.''