Men's Track And Field Ready For A Step Up In Class In 2003

Feb. 14, 2003

After two years of rebuilding, the USC men's track team has a foundation as sturdy as the walls of ancient Troy.

It's a foundation made up of talented jumpers, hurdlers, sprinters and throwers.

Some of them have been through the battles of NCAAs past. Others are looking wide-eyed, yet undeterred, at the prospect of future collegiate greatness.

Last season saw the Trojans score 21 points to tie for 11th at the NCAA Championships in Baton Rouge, Louis. Nineteen of those points return, a year wiser and stronger. They are joined by one of the top incoming recruiting classes in the nation.

One thing is for sure: USC won't be satisfied looking at the top 10 from the outside for much longer.

'We're no longer rebuilding, but we are still young,' said USC Director of Track and Field Ron Alice, now in his ninth year at Troy. 'I think we have good talent. It's how our youth can mix with our veterans that will determine where we end up.'

The three goals of the Ron Allice era at USC remain the same: win the dual meet, the Pac-10 meet and the NCAAs. This year, after finishing second and third, respectively, the last two years at the Pac-10s, the Trojans are in good position to once again challenge for the conference title.

'Depending upon how matchups are created, we definitely have a shot at the conference title,' said Allice, who has won three Pac-10 titles at USC.

If the Trojans need any extra motivation come May, they will need to look no farther than their own backyard. That's because the 2003 Pac-10 Outdoor Track and Field Championships will be held at USC's Katherine B. Loker Stadium on May 17-18. Putting on a first class event will be paramount in importance to Allice.

'The Pac-10 Championships have never been held on this campus,' he said. 'It is very significant to us. We now have a venue that is ideal for viewing track and field. We will be showcasing the strongest conference in America at this facility. USC has not hosted at any location since 1986. So I'm very excited about that.'

Added to the mix this season are the new rules for qualifying for the NCAAs. Athletes will no longer be asked to qualify by meeting pre-set standards. Instead, there will be four qualifying regionals from which an athlete must advance to go to the NCAA Championships. Obviously, traditional strategies for getting to the NCAAs will undergo some serious revision.

'It is now one man against the other instead of seeding people based on performances met during the season,' said Allice. 'In some ways, this will help us. More will have an opportunity to make it to The Big Show.'

With 28 national titles and 107 individual titles in its 103-year history--not to mention 32 Pac-10 titles, 61 world records and 40 Olympic gold medals--no track and field program in the nation has been a bigger star at The Big Show than the University of Southern California.

Squad Breakdown

After an inconsistent year last season, the Trojan sprint crew has all the makings of an elite unit. However, it must replace four-time All-American Sultan McCullough, 2002 All-American Kareem Kelly and Devon Ward before it can take it to the next level. Early indications reveal that the Trojans should be able to do just that. Leading the way in the 100 meters will be senior Darrell Rideaux (10.27), a steady veteran who has twice been a relay All-American in his career. He had a solid season for the Trojan football team as a cornerback and will be preparing for the NFL draft during the early parts of the season, so he will likely not join the Trojans until late spring--a ritual that he is used to by now. Also making an impact will be hard-working senior Miguel Fletcher (10.31), another former football player who was a 1999 relay All-American. The next most experienced sprinter for USC is sophomore Wes Felix (10.48/20.89), a 2002 400-meter relay All-American who was quite busy this past summer, as he won the U.S.A. Junior 200-meter title and the World Junior bronze in the 200 meters and also ran a leg on the U.S. squad that set a world junior record in winning the 400-meter relay. Needless to say, he is a rising star for the Trojans. Two newcomers should provide an instant spark for the sprint corps: sophomore Phillip Francis and freshman Garry Jones. The talented Francis (10.48/21.10) sat out all of last season and may sit out most of this season due to eligibility issues. The hope is that he will be ready to go for Pac-10s. Jones (10.45/21.64) is one of the fastest incoming freshmen in the country and has a lot of potential down the road. Eventually, Rideaux, Fletcher, Felix, Francis and Jones--should be able to comprise an excellent sprint relay squad. Redshirt freshman Justin Tolliver (10.6) could be part of the mix, too.

'Darrell Rideaux's contribution at the NCAAs in the relay was hellatious,' said Allice. 'His leadoff leg destroyed the field. Wes Felix is one of the most improved sprinters in the country who was also an All-American on that relay. That experience helped him when he went on to help set that junior world record. He can be as good as any sprinter in the conference at 200 meters and can even help us in the 1600-meter relay. But his focus will be the sprints. For the first time, Fletcher comes to us without having played football, so we are in the process of slimming him down into a track man. But he can also be a contributor. Francis and Garry Jones are 100-200 guys. Both of them are technically underdeveloped in terms of strength and technique, but both have a tremendous upside and potential.

In the 400 meters, junior Brandon Matlock (47.30) had a good fall and should begin to show why he was so highly regarded coming out of junior college. Backing him up will be senior David Biesek (47.51). Athletes from other areas--namely Felix, hurdlers Jeff Garrison and Ryan Wilson and 800-meter runner Rafael Asafo-Agyei--will likely make up variaions of the 1600-meter relay squad.

'Matlock had an injury-plagued season last year, but he did well this fall,' said Allice. 'We think he is going to have a good year. David Biesek has good experience. In the relay, if you throw Felix and Wilson and Garrison and our super newcomer, Asafo-Agyei, then we look pretty good.

'Overall, our sprints are talented, but young. They will need to come through for us to challenge for the conference title.'

The departed Kevin Elliot was a warrior in the middle distances, but incoming freshman Raphael Asafo-Agyei (1:50.70 as a junior in high school) has the talent to be a very good 800-meter runner at USC. Sophomore Anthony Heckman (1:50.96) returns after a solid freshman year that saw him advance to the Pac-10s in the 800 meters. Sophomore John Peschelt adds solid depth in the 800 meters as well. The 1500 and 5000 meters will be the domain of another freshman phenom, Thomas Babsikiewicz (3:42.70), who has a chance to score early and often in his USC career. Junior Ivan Bannon and senior Justin Neems--the hero of the 2001 UCLA dual meet--will shoulder much of the rest of the load in the middle and long distances.

'With Heckman, Babsikiewicz and Asafo-Agyei, our middle distances are as strong as they've been in a while,' said Allice. 'Asafo-Agyei was hurt his senior year in high school, but as a junior he was the No. 2 800-meter runner in the country. So we feel he has a tremendous upside and that he will make a contribution and impact right off the bat. Heckman, I think he's going to be a big suprise. Babiskiewicz is something I have been trying to find for a while--that right combination of someone who is a pure 1500-meter runner with the ability to go up to 5000 meters. Ivan Bannon and Justin Neems help us out, too.'

The hurdles are once again a strength for the Trojans, with two-time All-American Ryan Wilson (13.55/50.89) leading the way. Wilson, a senior, is also a team co-captain. He should challenge for the NCAA title in the 110-meter high hurdles this season. Coming over to help from football once again will be senior Marcell Allmond (13.89), who is a two-time Pac-10 finalist in the high hurdles. He has the ability to be one of the best hurdlers in the conference. Sophomores Kenneth Thomas (14.32/53.22) and Jeff Garrison (14.69/52.25) are emerging young hurdlers who are equally adept at both hurdle events. Freshman Blake Frazier (14.28) is a fantastic athlete, but he has been bothered by an injury this past fall and is a possible redshirt candidate. Another freshman, Jenson Wayne (37.59 300m IM) adds depth.

'We are strong in the hurdles,' said Allice. 'We have a two-time All-American in Wilson, who is in great shape heading into the season. Once we get Allmond, who is a great athlete and seasoned veteran, we will really be set with a good one-two punch in the high hurdles. I was highly impressed with Garrison and Thomas as freshmen. They need to pick up the slack this year so Wilson doesn't have to do double duty all the time. Frazier has really good potential, but has been hurt all fall. We'll see if he recovers in time to help us. Wayne can also help us.'

It would take a great memory to remember when USC last had a jump corps as strong as the one it will field this season. In the horizontal jumps, there is senior All-American Julien Kapek (55-8 1/2), who last season broke the 25-year old USC triple jump record in just his first home meet and then later went on to finish third at the NCAAs. He also has a best of 24-7 in the long jump. He is joined in the triple by sophomore Allen Simms (55-1), a transfer from George Mason who, as a freshman, was fourth in the triple jump both indoors and outdoors at the NCAAs. What's more, Simms is also an excellent long jumper (26-3), so he has the potential to score in both horizontal jumps this season. The sleeper of the group is junior Andre Serrette (24-2 1/4), who finished fifth at the Pac-10s in the long jump and is a potential 25-footer.

'This is the best jumps corps since I've been here,' said Allice. 'We have in Kapek someone who is world class in the triple. He is a very good technician. His strength is far better than it was a year ago. And Simms is going to scare a lot of people with his jumping. He is so efficient, yet explosive. Both Kapek and Simms have worked really hard in the fall. Serrette should have a banner year. We think he is ready for bigger and better things.'

Senior Dawid Jaworski tied for second in the high jump at last year's NCAA meet--and he almost won it, losing only on number of misses. In the process, though, he tied the school record of 7-4 1/2 set by Anthony Caire in 1983. Considering he had been bothered by a bad back for much of the season, it was an amazing performance. He has had a strong fall and could challenge for the NCAA title in the high jump. Kapek (6-8 3/4) can also high jump in a pinch.

'What else can you say about Jaworski? He's our school record-holder,' said Allice. 'He was one miss away from being the NCAA champ. If he can stay healthy--and he's pretty fit right now--he's as good as anybody.'

The throws have been slightly down the last couple years for USC, but look for a solid rebound in 2003. The last decade saw Troy dominate in the hammer and some semblance of that may be returning. Juniors Michael Murray (199-10) and Harrison Lee (195-11) give the Trojans a good one-two punch that could provide some solid points come Pac-10 time. But the one to look out for could be heralded freshman Adam Midles (242-1 HS), a prep All-American who brings with him the second-best high school hammer throw in history. He has also thrown the college hammer 201-9. Look for him to land in the USC top 10 lists before too long. Midles also throws the shot (57-11 3/4), an area in which fellow freshman Noah Bryant--another prep All-American--excels. Bryant (67-6 1/2) was the California state shot put champ in 2002. Freshman William Denbo (64-0 1/4) is another incoming shot putter with talent. Both Midles (191-3 HS) and Bryant (170-3 HS) can throw the discus as well. In the javelin, freshman Dennis Rice is ready to be unleashed after redshirting last season. He could be the best javelin thrower at USC in quite some time. Junior Corey Fitzgibbon--a former decathlete--will also throw the javelin.

'It's a young, but talented throws group,' said Allice. 'Coming in, we've got the California state champ in Noah Bryant and another 60-footer in Denbo. In the hammer, we've got the best in the country out of high school in Midles. He is way ahead of the game right now for a freshman. Add him with Murray and Lee and you have a very good hammer group. In the javelin, Rice has a big arm and we expect good things from him. Fitzgibbon will help us out there, too.'

The pole vault is solid with senior Jeff Ryan, who has a best of 17-3. Depth behind Ryan will have to be developed within the program. In the decathlon, senior co-captain Shelton Davis (7,122) returns after improving his PR by over 400 points in 2002 . Last season, he was fourth at the Pac-10s in the decathlon. Newcomer Jonas Hallgrimsson will also compete in the decathlon.

'Ryan is solid for us in the pole vault,' said Allice. 'Davis is a 7,000-point guy and is very talented. We also have Hallgrimsson, who can be another 7,000 point guy. So we'll have two good decathletes.'

As the starter's gun rises on USC's season, it is clear that there is talent--both young and old--at Allice's disposal. The Trojans are balanced enough to compete at every level of competition--dual, conference and national--which is always an Allice requirement.

'We are a pretty balanced team,' he said. 'We're young with some veteran leadership. I think it has a chance to be good.'

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