Track and field prep for NCAA championships

Bailey Lear is ranked sixth on USC’s all-time outdoor 400m list and was a part of the second-fastest 4x400m relay in school history. (Photo courtesy of USC Athletics)

Thirty-two athletes from USC track and field will travel to Fayetteville, Ark. this week for the 2022 NCAA West Preliminary Rounds. 

Athletes with top 12 times or marks in their respective events will earn a berth to the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore. in June. 

“The team’s energy has been great all year when we travel,” Head Coach Quincy Watts said. “It’s good to see they know how to relax, and they know how to bring a sense of calm before the storm.” 

USC used the last day of the Pac-12 Track & Field Championships to climb the standings, as both the men’s and women’s teams benefitted from clutch performances to each finish in the top five. 

“Even though obviously we didn’t win, … we got people to step up in different places that we didn’t think was possible,” said senior sprinter Bailey Lear in an interview with the Daily Trojan. 

USC’s men’s team finished third overall after sophomore Johnnie Blockburger won an individual title in the men’s 400m on the championship’s final day. The win was Blockburger’s second of his career in the Pac-12 Championship, posting a season-best time of 45.19.

Blockburger’s record-breaking day continued in the 4×100 relay, when, along with junior Nicholas Ramey, senior Eric Allen Jr. and graduate student Kasaun James, the team won the event with a time of 38.60. USC’s previous record for the event, 38.69, was set in 1980. 

On the final day of the championships, sophomore Jasmine Jones won the 100-meter hurdles and junior Jan’Taijah Ford won the women’s 400 meter, helping the women’s team vault from 11th to fourth place. 

“It’s nothing new to us because of the way that we’re made,” Watts said. “We always go into the last day down a lot of points, but we’ve always ran extremely well on day two.” 

Ford’s victory was the fifth consecutive women’s 400m Pac-12 title for USC.  

The 400 is always dominant for us,” Lear said. “Usually schools call us ‘400 Meter [University]’ because we’re so powerful in the 400.” 

USC will look to carry their momentum to the NCAA West Preliminary Rounds, where the competition is sure to heat up. With 48 participants competing in individual events, there will be plenty of opportunities for USC athletes to advance past the NCAA preliminary round. 

In the women’s 100m race, graduate student Celera Barnes leads all athletes with a time of 10.82, earning her the first seed in the race. Just behind Barnes at the seventh seed is freshman Samirah Moody. 

“These young ladies have worked extremely hard, especially Celera Barnes. I’m looking for a breakout for her,” Watts said.  

Moody, who started with the team in January, also garnered high praise from her coach. 

“Samirah is just a phenomenal freshman,” Watts said. “She’s off to a tremendous start and just looking for her now to find her legs and gain some experience.” 

For both the 4x100m and 4x400m relay preliminaries, USC is seeded fifth with UCLA just behind in sixth. The pressure will be high as the Trojans look to continue their successful season. 

“We don’t even call it regionals because it’s like the first part of nationals,” Lear said. 

Lear will join Ford in the 400m dash preliminary round. Both athletes are seeded in the top 15. 

Blockburger is the No. 2 seed in the men’s 400m dash preliminary round. With a time over a half second shorter than the event’s No. 1 seed, Texas senior Jonathan Jones, Blockburger might have to beat his own season-best time in order to win the event. 

The NCAA Preliminary Round will begin May 25 on the University of Arkansas campus and will be livestreamed on the NCAA website.