UCLA Women Have a Chance at Rare Track and Field Glory
The realistic side of Jeanette Bolden, women’s track coach at UCLA, says that anything can happen on the day of a meet.
She has seen how things can slip from your grasp. An injury here. A subpar performance there. With second-place team finishes to Texas in the last two NCAA outdoor championship meets, there have been only a few points that kept the Bruins from claiming their first NCAA title since 1983.
But Bolden also has an optimistic side. The NCAA indoor meet was coming up and assistant coaches Eric Peterson and Monte Rucker fed into that on a plane ride.
“We were coming back from a last-chance meet in Iowa,” Bolden recalls. “On the whole flight, Coach Peterson and Coach Rucker kept saying to me, ‘Jeannette, we can do this. We can win it.’
“I felt good about our chances. But I knew that LSU, Texas and South Carolina all did well in their conference meets. I knew it would be tough.”
Ranked third nationally behind Texas and South Carolina, the UCLA women proved Peterson and Rucker correct, winning the NCAA indoor title March 12 at Fayetteville, Ark. It was the team’s first national title since the ’83 squad won the outdoor meet at the University of Houston and it was the first indoor title, bettering a second-place finish in 1995.
UCLA won by a comfortable 10-point margin over South Carolina. Arkansas was third and Texas stunned observers with an eighth-place finish.
Winning the team title was no less stunning to Bolden.
“It was very emotional,” she said. “Honestly, we didn’t plan on it.”
Having seen other title chances slip away, Bolden didn’t want to get her hopes too high.
“What we did was, we went into it thinking that it’s just another track meet,” she said. “But good athletes bring out the best in other athletes. I think that’s what happened. We were really pulling for each other.”
Any team with Seilala Sua will have one clear advantage. The senior, the defending collegiate champion in the shotput and discus, won in the shot with a throw of 56 feet 8 inches. She followed it up with a second-place finish in the 20-pound weight throw.
But fellow throwers Christina Tolson and Chaniqua Ross secured the victory. Tolson was third and Ross sixth, giving the Bruins big points in the event.
“That was a tremendous showing,” Bolden said. “To have two top finishes is great. We had three place in the top six.”
Tracy O’Hara and Keyon Soley also took home NCAA titles. O’Hara, a sophomore, soared to new heights in the pole vault with a 14-6 mark, a collegiate indoor record.
O’Hara’s college career has been nothing but upward bound. She started the season ranked ninth, having finish second at the NCAA outdoor meet as a freshman.
“Tracy is just a tremendous talent,” Bolden said. “You never have to worry about pushing her. She’s somebody that you have to pull the reins back on sometimes. She constantly works at getting better.”
Soley, a sophomore, has given the Bruins a solid advantage in the field events. The defending Pacific 10 Conference long-jump champion added the NCAA indoor to her impressive ledger with a leap of 21-4 3/4.
“It was just her second meet [this year] and I think that really got us going,” Bolden said. “Her jump really put the nail in the coffin.”
Suddenly, UCLA is atop the rankings. The Bruins also have a chance to pull off a rare double with indoor and outdoor championships in the same season.
Bolden said that is achievable but that winning indoors doesn’t necessarily translate to outdoor success.
“Just because we won indoor doesn’t mean we’re resting on that,” she said. “One of our goals has been achieved.
“It was a great win for us and for UCLA. At outdoors, there will be more teams with more depth. You’ve got to factor in Texas, LSU, South Carolina and Arkansas and you’ve got to add USC and Florida.”
Not to be outdone by the women, two performers on the UCLA men’s track team were also impressive in Arkansas.
Senior Jess Strutzel won his first NCAA title, in the 800 meters with a time of 1:46.57. Junior Brian McLaughlin became the fourth Bruin to vault over 18 feet with an 18- 1/2 mark that placed fourth.
USC and UCLA placed seventh and eighth, respectively, at the NCAA women’s swimming and diving meet last week at Indianapolis. USC freshman Asa Sandlund finish third in the 1,500-meter freestyle, setting a Swedish national record in the process. Keiko Price sparked UCLA by taking second place in the 100 freestyle. . . . UCLA won its ninth Pacific 10 women’s gymnastics title in the last 10 years last week. Heidi Moneymaker was named the conference’s gymnast of the year and Valorie Kondos, its coach of the year.
Greg Bruce will be the first women’s basketball coach at Cal State Bakersfield. Bruce was at Division II Northern Colorado the last three seasons and has 257 victories in 13 seasons. He also coached the Portland Power of the now-defunct American Basketball League in 1996-97. . . . Azusa Pacific senior Kevin Daley was selected as the Golden State Athletic Conference player of the year. Teammate Jerome Joseph was named to the All-GSAC team, along with Biola senior Marcus White and Westmont senior Chris Gonzales. . . . Georgia Southwestern bounced the Azusa Pacific women out of the NAIA tournament with a 92-67 win last week.