Track and Field Previews : UCLA Recruits Enough Talent to Recover Nicely

Times Staff Writer

The bad news was inescapable for anyone who reads the fine print of track and field results.

UCLA and USC tied for 58th place with only three points each in the 1985 NCAA outdoor meet.

Not so long ago, these former powers in the sport would have been contending for the team championship instead of salvaging a few scraps from the national meet.

It's not necessarily a sign of the times, however, for either school, especially UCLA. The Bruins, who were unbeaten in nine dual meets last year, are now blending quantity with quality and figure to be representative on the national level this season.

"We can cover every event with solid athletes," Coach Bob Larsen said. "We're definitely a very good team. We're retaining depth with more quality, and I see us among the top five in the NCAA meet."

The Bruins had an excellent recruiting year, bringing in four blue-chip athletes from the prep ranks: sprinters Henry Thomas and Danny Everett, pole vaulter Brandon Richards and weight man Brian Blutreich.

Moreover, Larsen red-shirted several athletes last year, who figure to make an impact this season. He also has some some quality athletes returning. Indeed, UCLA's track program apparently is flourishing.

There is also a resurgence at other Pacific 10 schools, according to Larsen.

"You look at the potential marks of UCLA and USC and throw in California and Arizona and you're looking at some very good dual meet teams," Larsen said. "Even the marks down to the second level will match up with any team."

Washington State, with its strong foreign contingent, is the team to beat in the conference and NCAA meets. But the talent is now spread around in the West.

Thomas, from Hawthorne High, is the latest in a long line of outstanding California prep sprinters, some of whom went on to win Olympic gold medals, or set world records beginning with USC's Charley Paddock in the 1920s.

A midseason appendectomy prevented Thomas from defending the state sprint titles that he won as a junior. But he's healthy now and should improve on his best marks of 10.25 in the 100 meters, 20.4 in the 200 and 45.09 in the 400--all state high school records.

Everett, from Fairfax High, was primarily regarded as a quarter-miler with a best time of 45.76. But he has already recorded a 20.83 in the 200, and Larsen projects Everett as a competitor in both the 200 and 400, as well as the sprint and 1,600 meter relays. The Bruins figure to be among the nation's best teams in the 1,600.

Richards is the son of Bob Richards, a gold medalist in the pole vault in the 1952 and 1956 Olympics. Brandon is the national prep record-holder in the event with a vault of 18 feet 2 inches.

Blutreich, the 1985 state high school champion in the shotput and discus from Capistrano Valley High in Mission Viejo, will be redshirted this year. Larsen said the weight events are his strongest area in terms of depth.

Steve Kerho, the defending Pac-10 champion in the 110- and 400-meter hurdles, is also a potential redshirt. He is bothered by a nagging groin injury.

The redshirted athletes of 1985 who figure to help UCLA the most are distance runner Jon Butler, a three-time cross-country All-American; decathlete Jim Connolly; long jumper-sprinter Mike Powell; half-miler John Phillips and quarter-miler Roy Carls.

Powell, a transfer from UC Irvine, had a wind-aided jump of 27-2 at last year's TAC meet. He is also capable of helping the Bruins in the sprints, triple jump and high jump, if needed.

A capsule look at some events:

Hurdles--Even without Kerho, Larsen has some improving young hurdlers in sophomores Raymond and Kevin Young, who are not related. Raymond was third in the 110-meter hurdles and sixth in the 400-meter event in last year's Pac-10 meet. Kevin was fourth in the highs and fifth in the intermediates, respectively, in the same meet.

Middle, Long Distances--Phillips has a best 800 time of 1:49.18, which he recorded in 1983 as a freshman before he was hurt in an automobile accident and missed in the rest of the season.

Mark Junkerman was consistent last year at every distance from 1,500 meters to 5,000 including the steeplechase. He will provide points in the distances, along with Butler, a past NCAA qualifier in the 5,000, Eric Reynolds and Jim Ortiz.

Weights--Plenty of depth here with John Frazier, Jim Banich, junior college transfer Matt Gallo and freshman Peter Thompson. Frazier finished sixth in last year's NCAA meet in the shotput, and Banich excels in both the shot and discus with respective best marks of 63-10 and 192-0. Dave Wilson, a promising sophomore hammer thrower, will be redshirted.

Jumps--Troy Haines has high jumped 7-1, a height matched by Powell. Powell is also an outstanding long jumper and ranked 10th in the world in 1985 with a best legal jump of 26-9 3/4. Dwayne Washington is a solid triple jumper with a best mark of 52-8 1/2.

Javelin--Connolly set a school record of 256-10 in 1984. He is backed up in the event by Mike Johnson with a best mark of 238-3.

Other Bruins who figure to contribute are freshman Mike Marsh, the state 200-meter champion from Hawthorne High, and quarter-milers John Stanich and Anthony Washington. Stanich is the son of George Stanich, a former UCLA basketball star and the bronze medalist in the high jump in the 1948 Olympics.

UCLA's women have lost a virtual one-woman team now that Jackie Joyner has graduated. The versatile Joyner scored 24 of UCLA's 45 points in last year's NCAA meet.

Even without Joyner, though, UCLA has some quality performers such as sprinter-hurdler Gail Devers, distance runner Polly Plumer, weight specialist Toni Lutjens and a blue-chip freshman class featuring sprinter Choo Choo Knighten, hurdler Nicolle Thompson and Nikki Williams, and half-miler Kristen Dowell.

Coach Bob Kersee believes in bringing his athletes along slowly so that they'll peak for the big meets later in the season. He is also credited with developing Valerie Brisco-Hooks, a triple gold medal winner in the 1984 Olympics, as well as Joyner and other Olympians.

The Bruin women aren't as deep as they have been in previous years, but they figure to be strong at the national level.

Devers, a sophomore from National City, rivals Joyner in versatility. She placed sixth in the 100, 200 and 100-meter hurdles in last year's NCAA meet, even though she competed with an injured hamstring. She is also a capable long and triple jumper.

Plumer suffered from anemia that was difficult to diagnose last year. She is still tested regularly and will compete in selected meets. She finished fourth in the NCAA cross-country meet last fall.

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