When UCLA won its second consecutive National Collegiate Athletic Assn. track and field championship in 1988, it was assumed that the the Bruins would have an even better team in 1989.
UCLA was losing only hurdler Kevin Young from a team that won by 41 points.
But as the NCAA meet starts today at Brigham Young University UCLA’s status is shaky.
Steve Lewis, the Olympic gold medalist in the 400 meters, is doubtful after reinjuring a hamstring last week. With Lewis hurt, UCLA Coach Bob Larsen didn’t even try to qualify his 400 and 1,600-meter relays teams.
And instead of being an overwhelming favorite, UCLA is expected to finish behind Florida and Texas A&M.;
UCLA still has sprinter Mike Marsh, who also had a hamstring injury.
“When it’s all said and done, Mike is standing there ready to take his rifle,” said John Smith, UCLA sprint coach. “He’s our steady Freddy.”
Marsh, a senior, is entered in the 100 and 200 meters. His points will be vital, as will be those from the UCLA field participants.
However, because of his hamstring injury, Marsh hasn’t competed in the 100 since April 8, when he set a school record of 10.07 seconds in a meet in Florida.
“I perform my best under pressure and, win, or lose, I like the feeling,” Marsh said.
He will be involved in one of the meet’s best events, a 100 that will feature Texas Christian’s Raymond Stewart, who recently had a time of 9.97 seconds; Florida’s Dennis Mitchell, who beat Marsh by 0.01 seconds last April, and Houston’s Leroy Burrell.
Marsh is the only Bruin sprint star remaining from the championship teams of the past two years.
The 5-foot 11-inch, 165-pounder was a state champion in the 200 at Hawthorne High School, but still came to UCLA as a walk-on.
“I had scholarship offers from Nebraska and Arizona State, but it was more important to go where I wanted to go and be happy,” Marsh said.
Marsh has been on scholarship since his freshman year in 1986, when he won the 100 in the Pacific 10 meet. He won the 100 again last year and was sixth in the Olympic trials, earning a place as an alternate on the sprint relay team at Seoul. He didn’t have a chance to compete, however, as the U.S. team was disqualified for passing out of its zone in the first round.
He was regarded as a 200-400 runner in high school, but Smith converted him to a short-distance sprinter.
“Mike had the quick feet and cadence to be a short sprinter,” Smith said. “He reminded me of James Sanford (former USC sprinter), who ran the 400 in high school.
“He’s very intense and intelligent and has the ability to correct things under pressure.”
Marsh originally balked at becoming a 100-200 athlete, but now he has settled into his role.
“In the shorter sprint distances, more things come into play,” he said. “One or two mistakes and it’s over. In the 200 and 400, you have more space.”
UCLA will have eight athletes available for the NCAA meet if Lewis can’t compete, many in multiple events.
Meanwhile, USC has five competitors in the meet.
“Our goal is to finish in the top 10 and, with a run of good fortune, we can do better than that,” USC Coach Ernie Bullard said.
However, Quincy Watts, the former Taft High School star who was expected to anchor USC’s 400-meter relay team, is unable to compete because of a lingering hamstring injury.
UCLA’s women’s team will probably finish well, but Louisiana State, with sprinter Dawn Sowell and hurdler Tananjalyn Stanley, is a strong favorite.
USC’s women will be represented by seven athletes, most notably middle-distance runner Lesley Noll, intermediate hurdler Leslie Maxie and sprinter-half miler Michelle Taylor.
The first two days of the NCAA meet will consist primarily of trials and qualifying in track and field events. The heptathlon starts today and the women’s 10,000 meters is scheduled tonight. UCLA’s Tonya Sedwick, a multi-talented athlete and Pac-10 heptathlon winner, will not compete in the long jump and 200 because of a schedule conflict with the heptathlon. . . . Eleven athletes will represent the women’s team. . . . UCLA men’s Coach Bob Larsen on the status of injured Steve Lewis: “It’s doubtful whether he’ll compete. We don’t want to take a chance of putting an Olympic champion in jeopardy for the future.”
Larsen said that senior Christian Cushing-Murray barely failed to get an NCAA qualifying time in the 1,500 Sunday at Mt. San Antonio College. Cushing-Murray was timed in 3:42.95; the qualifying standard was 3:42.70. . . . UCLA’s Jim Ortiz failed to qualify for the 3,000-meter steeplechase, missing the event when he was involved in a minor automobile accident.