2009 Men's Track & Field Outlook
Jan. 6, 2009
Last season, the men's team placed 14th at the NCAA Indoor meet as nearly every competitor scored points for the team. The outdoor NCAA meet was a letdown after injuries doomed the team to a 37th-place showing. In 2009, Art Venegas and the Bruins are looking to return to a top-15 finish at the NCAA Indoor and Outdoor meet, while making a push for a Pac-10 crown.
'We are a very balanced team again,' said Venegas. 'We had some injuries last year that prevented us from placing where we thought we could at Nationals, but with several standouts back and a very strong fall of training behind us, we feel we can return to the national spotlight.'
The Bruins will place more focus on the indoor season in 2009 as the team boasts several returning All-Americans, as well as athletes who can compete on the national level. Leading the way into indoors are hurdler Kevin Craddock, weight thrower Boldizsar Kocsor, vaulters Johnny Quinn and Dustin DeLeo and a solid distance medley relay squad. Several other Bruins figure to contend for spots in the final at NCAAs like Laef Barnes, Cory Primm and Jonathan Clark.
'As long as our top guys stay healthy, we have a good shot at placing in the top-15 and an outside shot at the top-10,' added Venegas.
As far as the Pac-10 race this season, the conference meet depends on having the top people on a team injury free, and the Bruins hope that this season is one where the athletes make few trips to the training room. The Bruins have more scoring possibilities across all event groups this year and will look for each facet of the team to step up when needed.
The distance squad is comprised of a core group of senior leadership in Laef Barnes, Mike Haddan and twin brothers Drew and Kyle Shackleton. Barnes, Haddan and Drew Shackleton had big cross country campaigns in 2008, while Kyle Shackleton finished 17th at the prestigious New York Marathon. The foursome will undoubtedly lead this squad to big performances in 2009.
'It's a really nice thing having the kind of leadership we do from these four men,' noted Venegas. 'They had a healthy fall and will use that added strength they gained during cross country for the indoor and outdoor season.'
Barnes had a huge year in 2008, qualifying for the NCAA Indoor meet and competing at the NCAA Outdoor meet and has built a strong base for the upcoming season after his final cross country campaign. This past fall will pay dividends for a successful final year with the Bruins on the track.
The half-milers have had a very fine fall and look fantastic. They competed limitedly in cross country and have been preparing for a big track season. The 800m runners are led by Cory Primm, who competed at the NCAA Outdoor meet and was an NCAA qualifier in indoor track, earning All-American honors with the DMR.
'The ability is there,' added Venegas. 'In terms of quality and depth, this distance group is the best we've had in years and I'm very optimistic that they will have a big impact on our team performances throughout the year.'
The throws squad lost three-time All-American and Pac-10 champion Greg Garza to graduation, but Boldizsar Kocsor returns after a banner junior campaign in which he won his second Pac-10 hammer crown, placed fourth at the NCAA Outdoor meet and seventh at the NCAA Indoor meet.
'Boldi is one of the most dependable and toughest competitors around,' remarked Venegas. 'He has had a great fall and is really ready to make a push for one of the top spots in the nation.'
Behind Kocsor is a young, but talented crop of throwers. Nick Robinson returns after redshirting the 2008 season, along with Bo Taylor, a 2008 NCAA Outdoor competitor and Darius Savage, a two-time All-American in 2008. Savage will be unavailable for the indoor season after tearing a ligament in his ankle during the football season, but the Bruins hope he can be back to assist during the outdoor competitions. All three men can produce at the national level and will look to continue the trend of Bruin All-Americans in the throws.
Mark Weber and Thomas Nagengast redshirted last season and have worked hard on technique and strength over the last year in the hopes of helping the Bruin team in 2009., while newcomers Nigel Davies and Dane Chobanian will add depth to the group.
The jumps squads is the breakout group for the 2009 team because of the maturity the guys have achieved in the weight room. Taylor Hobson and Jonathan Clark both gained valuable NCAA experience last season and are looking to have huge sophomore campaigns. Behind Clark and Hobson are Bryson Banks and Steven Taylor. Both have trained well and will add much to the overall team. Footballer Nelson Rosario will also add depth to the jumps events as he transitions from his first year on the Bruin gridiron.
'I expect Jonathan and Taylor to have big years,' said Venegas. 'Both showed they could step up and perform at the big level meets last season and will definitely lead this group in 2009.'
The vault group, always a highlight for the Bruin track team, returns three very talented jumpers in Dustin DeLeo, Johnny Quinn and Bobby Talley. DeLeo and Quinn both earned All-American accolades last season, while Talley was the surprise Pac-10 champion. Greg Woepse, also a 17-footer, returns to bolster this squad.
'The vaulters are a very dedicated group of athletes,' noted Venegas. 'This year's group has to be the deepest since I've been here and these guys are on fire. They are very talented and range from 17-0 to 18-1.'
This threesome is also backed up by several young men ready to step up. Twin brothers Scott and Casey DiCesare redshirted last year to really grasp the pole vault technique. Newcomer Riley Egan comes to UCLA as one of the top 15 prep vaulters in the nation last season. Together, they will add depth to a strong vault crew.
'The most improved group on this team is by far the sprints,' said Venegas. 'We really need these guys to step up for us to do well at the big meets. If we don't have depth in the sprints, we can't do well at Pac-10's. We are really keying on that this year and hope to have a great showing in that area.'
The Bruins are led by Craddock, a two-time Pac-10 Champion, the 2008 West Region champion and a 2006 NCAA All-American. Craddock was a semifinalist at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials, but had to pull out of the race due to injury. He was also forced out of the NCAA Championships with an injury. He has spent the off season rehabbing and working hard in the weight room so he can make his senior season one for the record books.
'Kevin has had a spectacular fall and his strength is through the roof,' remarked Venegas. 'I expect him to rewrite the record books in the short hurdles and be one of the top-3 athletes in the nation if he can stay healthy.'
Behind Craddock is a strong group of returning sprinters, plus some new sprint blood that will give the Bruins a pool of runners for relays. Stan Griffin, Brandon Smith and Elijah Wells return with experience in the sprints. Newcomers Jamal Alston, Karlton Rolle and James Kennedy, Jr. will look to make an immediate impact on the team in 2009.
The Bruins won't have much depth in the hurdles, so the health of every athlete is critical. Along with Craddock, the Bruins will look for Brian Law to improve in the intermediates and newcomer James Kennedy to adapt to college hurdling quickly.
Matthew Reuter placed sixth at the 2008 Pac-10 Championships, but has been severely hindered during the offseason due to an injury. The Bruins don't know if he can make it back in time to help the team, so youngster Trent Perez will have to step up and compete.