Balanced Men's Track And Field Team Looks To Rebound In 2005

Feb. 24, 2005

USC has been in the news a lot of late as a result of national titles won by the football team these past couple years.

If one weren't careful, one might forget that the the mightiest athletic legacy at Troy competes not at the Coliseum, the McDonald's swim stadium or the Lyon Center, but at Cromwell field within the confines of Katherine B. Loker Stadium.

It's the USC sport with the richest tradition and the most national championships. That sport is track and field.

Twenty-eight Trojan men's teams have brought home NCAA titles, the most of any school in the country. USC athletes have won 145 NCAA individual championships--again, more than any other school.

The tradition and excellence in achievement is not a thing of the past for USC track and field, but an ongoing affair. Each year seems to bring more champions, more records and more successes.

However, last year's team finished a disappointing 60th at the NCAA Championships in Austin, Texas. But the previous season saw the USC men's team finish third at the NCAA Championships in Sacramento, Calif. The Trojans scored 41.5 points, their most since scoring 48 in 1977. It was also the highest team finish for USC since also finishing third in 1997.

In other words, USC men's track and field is alive and flourishing, despite the occasional dip in the road. Give most of the credit to the efforts of Director of Track and Field Ron Allice and his staff. They have kept alive USC's unparalleled tradition and their teams have created new standards of excellence.

This season, look for more of the same from USC. This year's squad is as balanced as any team in the Pac-10 and has the building blocks to once again fight its way near the top, where Trojan track and field belongs.

'We have a great mix of youth and experience,' said Allice, who is in his 11th season at USC. 'Last year was very disappointing to us. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. But this season we are on a mission to make everything right and compete at the highest levels to which we are accustomed.'

'We have as much balance and depth as we have had in a long time. I expect us to be very good not only at the dual meet level, but at the conference and national level as well.'

This year, the Trojans' path takes them crosstown to UCLA for the Pac-10 Championships, then to Oregon for the NCAA West Regionals before heading to the NCAA Championships in Sacramento.

If the Trojans stay healthy and hungry, it could be another year to remember.

The key to this year's team may lie in how well the sprint corps performs. The potential certainly is there, but the group has been nagged by injuries in the last couple years. This sprint corps features five athletes who have run 100m at 10.35 or better, making it perhaps the deepest group of speedsters at USC since the late 1970s.

Leading the way is senior Wes Felix (10.27/20.43), a tough competitor who is the two-time reigning Pac-10 champion at 200m. He's the first Trojan athlete to win back-to-back Pac-10 titles in the deuce since Clancy Edwards in the late 1970s. Look for him to make a splash at the national level this year. Senior Marvin Anderson (10.31/20.84) has loads of talent but was injured afor much of last season. If he stays healthy, he could contend for All-American honors. Juniors Phillip Francis and Garry Jones are proven talents who were also struck by the injury bug last season. Francis (10.35) was the NCAA West Region's 100m champ last year, while Jones ran a wind-aided 10.26 early in the season and would have competed at the NCAAs had he not been injured. Also in the mix are two talented freshmen in Lionel Larry (10.31/20.73) and Christopher Peart (10.50). Look for a combination of these runners to improve upon a sprint relay time of 39.35 last year and challenge for national acclaim in 2005.

'Our sprint corps had a great fall and looks to be in good shape for the spring,' said sprints coach John Henry Johnson. 'To start with, Wes Felix has really been outstanding this fall. He is as strong as he's ever been and is ready to take it to the next level. Anderson has so much talent, but must stay healthy. We will concentrate him mainly in the 200 this year. Francis is in the best shape of his life and could be a real surprise nationally. Jones is much stronger but also must stay healthy. Larry has been tremendous and will be a great one for us, while Peart is a real sleeper who has a solid work ethic.'

In the 400 meters, juniors Jeff Garrison and Patrick Wetzel will carry the load. Garrison is a converted hurdler who has battled injury throughout his career, while Wetzel is a highly-regarded transfer from Moorpark Junior College with a best of 46.9 in the quarter. These two, plus a combination of Felix, Anderson, Larry, incoming freshman Kai Kelley, junior Raphael Asafo-Agyei and sophomore Da'Sean Cunningham could comprise a swifter 1600m relay squad than last season's. Cunningham ran the 400m last year, but moves up to the 800m this season, while Kelley is an intermediate hurdler with relay experience. Felix, Anderson and Larry have all shown they are able to run very fast relay splits.

'There's not a lot of depth here,' said Ron Allice, who coaches the men's quarter and middle distances. 'Jeff Garrison needs to step up in order for us to be successful. He was converted because of a back injury. Wetzel came in mid year, so he didn't go through our fall program. He should come around by the end of the season. I think our 1600m relay will be much improved over the squads of the last few years, as there are more bodies to choose from now.'

The middle distances, under the direction of Laszlo Tabari, are a pillar of strength for the Trojans this season. Redshirt sophomore Raphael Asafo-Agyei is USC's top 800m runner (1:48.63). He was the NCAA West Regional champion and also the Pac-10 runner up in 2003, but missed the majority of last year due to a broken foot and had to redshirt. He has the potential to have an outstanding year and, along with vastly-improved senior Anthony Heckman (1:49.13), leads the pack in the middle distances. Heckman qualified for the NCAAs last season and should do so again this year. These two are joined by two promising runners in sophomore Da'Sean Cunningham, a converted 400m sprinter, and incoming freshman Duane Solomon (1:49.79), who is a former California state high school champ. Senior John Peschelt adds depth in this area. In the 1500m, junior Tomasz Babiskiewicz (3:44.99) is the standard bearer and one of the best in the conference. He finished second at the Pac-10s as a freshman and is already third on the all-time USC 1500m chart. He can also run the 5000m. In that race and the steeplechase, look for Travis Beardslee, John Ciampa, William Davis, Daniel Seddiqui and Damon Ferrara to contribute.

'Both Asafo-Agyei and Heckman are proven talents and they will have great seasons for us,' said Tabari. 'Asafo-Agyei has worked hard this fall and should be a factor at the Pac-10 and NCAAs. Heckman keeps getting better and better and we expect him to again make it to NCAAs. Solomon is a huge talent and he will also run some in the 1500m. Cunningham could split time at 400m and 800m. He's got a lot of potential in either race. Babiszkiewicz is a consistent 3:45 runner with the ability to run much faster this year.'

The hurdles had been a major strength for the Trojans in recent years, thanks in part to 2003 NCAA champion Ryan Wilson. But this is an area that is still developing since his loss. Steady senior Kenneth Thomas is USC's top returning hurdler (14.31/52.78). He ran all of last year with a broken arm and was a Pac-10 finalist in the high hurdles. Speedy junior Blake Frazier (14.31), who was fast enough to run third leg on USC's 400m relay lat times last season, also made the Pac-10 finals in the high hurdles. Others returning include Jenson Wayne (53.63) and Alex Von Oech (59.55) in the intermediates. This group should get a big boost with the addition of freshmen Sheldon Evans, Kai Kelley and Logan Taylor.

'Thomas showed a lot of grit last year and then he came through at the Pac-10s,' said Allice. 'Frazier had an excellent fall of training and should be vastly improved. Wayne and Van Oech give us depth, while the incoming guys have good ability and should make an impact. '

The jumps were USC's bread and butter two years ago in 2003, as the Trojans scored 43 points in jumping events at the indoor and outdoor NCAA Championships and won three individual titles. It was definitely a season to remember for jumps coach Mike Pullins and his crew. This year has the potential to reach those lofty heights once again thanks to a fabulous trio of jumpers--senior triple jumper Allen Simms, junior high jumper Jesse Williams and freshman high jumper Manjula Wijesekara. In 2003, Simms became the first Trojan to win the indoor NCAA triple jump title and the first USC trackster since 1961 to earn All-America honors in both the long and triple jumps at the same NCAA outdoor meet. Simms is the Pac-10 record holder in the triple with a best of 56-7 1/2 and is fourth on the USC long jump list at 26-3 3/4. Simms is joined in the horizontal jumps by some non-scholarship athletes who nonetheless have a lot of potential: sophomore Clark McGuire (23-1 1/4/47-9) and sophomore Inman Breaux (47-7 1/4). As hard as it was to replace school record holder Dawid Jaworski in the high jump last year, the Trojans found the perfect fit in North Carolina State transfer Jesse Williams, who won All-American honors for the third time by finishing seventh at the NCAA Indoor Championships. He had a best of 7-4 1/4, third-best all time at USC. He'll be pushed by Sri Lankan freshman Manjula Wijesekara, who participated in the Athens Olympics and has a best of 7-5.

'Two years ago, we almost jumped our way to a national title,' said jumps coach Mike Pullins. 'We should expect similar excitement from this year's trio. Both Allen Simms and Jess Williams have rededicated themselves and are more determined than ever to prove they belong among the nation's top jumpers. Jesse has his sights set on the school record set by Jaworski in 2003, but will have his hands full with Wijesekara. This may turn out to be the best high jump duo in the country. Clark McGuire has shown a great deal of improvement in the triple jump and is on pace to reach the 50-foot barrier soon. His training partner Inman Breaux redshirted last season but has clearly grown as a jumper. They both have Allen Simms to feed off of and that has proven to create a competitive environment. It will be exciting to see who gets to 50 feet first. Our jumpers have their eyes set on school records early and often. The key is to stay healthy and focused and to have fun.'

USC has a great throws tradition and should add to that legacy this season. The group is young, but is improving by leaps and bounds. In the shot put last season, the Trojans had two 60-footers on the same squad for the first time in over 30 years. Junior Noah Bryant earned All-American honors and had a best of 62-5, seventh all-time at Troy. Right behind him was redshirt sophomore William Denbo, whose 62-0 1/2 put is eighth-best all-time at USC. Together, they are two of the most improved shot putters in the country. In the hammer, sophomore Adam Midles (205-8) returns off a redshirt year after qualifying for the NCAAs as a true freshman. Look for him to be the next great hammer thrower at USC. Bryant also throws the hammer, with a best of 189-6, and Denbo has thrown 171-9. Sophomore Kevin Swartz (157-0) adds depth. Junior javelin thrower Dennis Rice (209-2) is healthy again and should make an impact. He'll be backed by junior Ryan Colich (165-7). Midles is also a fine discus thrower and is expected to improve upon his PR of 168-10 as a freshman.

'We've got a good, hard-working group that should shine this season,' said throws coach Dan Lange. 'In the shot put, Bryant and Denbo are a formidable duo. They had an excellent fall and could both challenge for All-American honors. In the hammer, we've got Adam Midles coming off a redshirt year where he improved tremendously. He has a chance to finish very high at the NCAAs and we look for him to carry on the tradition of USC hammer excellence. Bryant threw just under 190 last year and should move to the next level this year, while Denbo adds good depth in the hammer, along with Kevin Swartz. Dennis Rice is training better than ever and I expect a big improvement from him. Midles will also help us some in the discus. Overall, there's some talent here that will, with hard work and good health, score points for us at the Pac-10s and NCAAs.'

The Trojans will once again not field a scholarship pole vaulter, so redshirt freshman Graham Bockmiller (15-4) will carry the load here.

Looking at his team overall, Allice sees a lot of promise, but also a lot of holes.

'We've got some sprint power and a good jumps corps,' said Allice. 'We also have good young talent in the middle distances and throws. But there are areas that are not as strong as I'd like them to be. I strive to achieve balance so we can compete successfully in dual meets and conference meets, and still do well at the NCAAs. This is a young team that will get better as the year goes along and will be even more formidable in the coming years.'

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