USC's Track & Field Team Opens The Outdoor Season Saturday

    Senior All-American Remington Conatser placed second in the hammer throw at the 2013 NCAA T&F Outdoor Championships.

    Feb. 20, 2014

    The USC track & field team will begin the outdoor season this Saturday, Feb. 22 when they compete at the Claremont Relays in Claremont, Calif. The outdoor team rankings are not out yet, but the USC men's team is No. 8 and the women's team No. 27 in the indoor rankings by the USTFCCCA. In addition, USC is sending men's team members Aaron Brown, Aleec Harris, BeeJay Lee and Davonte Stewart to the Alex Wilson Indoor Invitational hosted by Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. on Feb. 22.

    The following is the 2014 season outlook by USC Director of Track & Field Caryl Smith Gilbert:

    I am very excited about the 2014 track and field season, both for the indoor and outdoor teams. I want to win championships and enjoy the honor that I have been bestowed to add on to the unprecedented history and successes of the USC track and field team.

    We return a good group of elite athletes, have brought in some high-end transfers and have several athletes coming back from injury-plagued 2013 seasons, so I am sure we will be able to represent the USC shield well on the national level. We just released our first recruiting class and are extremely pleased with the results and believe our fans will be, too.

    Our biggest strength for both the men's and women's teams will be our sprinters and throwers, not to say that we don't have athletes in most areas which can compete on the highest level, but our depth is best in these areas.

    For the men, we return Olympian Aaron Brown for his senior season. He placed in the top five at the NCAA Championships last season in both the 100m and 200m dashes and is running very well. Right behind him is 2013 Pac-12 100m dash champion junior BeeJay Lee. BeeJay really came on last season and was hitting his peak at the Pac-12 Championships before a leg injury slowed him down at the NCAA Preliminary Rounds. He teams with Brown to give us as good of a 1-2 punch as any team in the country. Junior Davonte Stewart is back to full health after dealing with injuries all last season which kept him from improving on his impressive freshman season. Also back to health is redshirt sophomore Jovonte Slater who will give us depth in the sprints and a potential force in the long jump as he returns to the form which helped him capture the 2012 California High School title in the event. In addition junior Bryan Mercado is off to a good start in the indoor season.



    Junior college transfer Armon Owens will also be a big part of our sprint corps as he was one of the top juco sprinters from the 100m-400m at Central Arizona College. He posted bests of 10.43 in the 100m, 20.87 in the 200m and 46.03 in the 400m. Freshman Alex Roahni figures to be one of our top quartermilers. He won the 400m dash at California State meet as a junior and was third as a senior.

    Aleec Harris is ready to compete with the top hurdlers in the country if you judge by his placing second and first in his first two indoor meets, both times with PRs. He won the Dual Meet last season and went on to rank seventh in the West and earn honorable mention All-America honors. Allen and Jemal Williams will add to our depth in the event. Allen had a 2013-best of 14.76. Freshman Jackie Childs was the Georgia state champion in the 110m HH has a PR of 13.85 in the event. Senior Greg Starkey is our top returning 400m hurdler with a best of 54.03. He will be joined by freshman Chase Peterson out of San Diego, the 2012 San Diego CIF runner-up in the 300m IH.

    Lauren Blackburn as a senior and Melia Cox as a junior give us two potential scorers in the 100m HH. Both Blackburn and Cox reached the NCAA 100m HH semifinals and earned honorable mention All-America status in the event. Sophomore Jaide Stepter will focus on the 400m IH and the relays.

    The women's sprint group is stocked and has shown some very impressive times in indoor season with virtually every runner posting a PR in one of the first two meets. Senior Jessica Davis has put her two injury-marred seasons behind her and looks ready to breakout once again, like she did as a freshman when she captured the Pac-12 200m dash title and set the school freshman 200m meter record with a time of 22.84. Also back for her final season is Loudia Laarman who placed sixth in the 100m dash at the Pac-12 Championships last season and earned All-America status running the leadoff leg for the 4x100m relay team. Another runner back healthy and better than ever is senior Jenna Puterbaugh. She won the 200m dash at the UW Indoor invite and has already posted indoor PRs in the 200 and 60 meters. Last season Puterbaugh took fourth in the 200m dash at the Pac-12 Championships. Redshirt junior Charity Bruce will also provide us depth in the short sprints.

    USC's other top returning sprinters are the versatile juniors Akawkaw Ndipagbor and Vanessa Jones. Both of them have been valuable members on the relay teams, while excelling in the 400m race. Ndipagbor also placed sixth in the 200m and seventh in the 100m at the conference meet last season, while Jones placed fifth in the 400m race at the Pac-12 Championships and anchored both relays, earning first-team All-America status in the 4x100m. Jones ranks seventh on USC's all-time 400m list with a PR of 52.89. Another Trojan competing in her final season is 400m specialist Ashley Liverpool. She ranks tied for 10th on USC's all-time 400m list with a best of 53.04 and willed the Trojans to the Pac-12 4x400m title last season out-sprinting Arizona Olympian Georgianne Moline and ASU's Brianna Tate, finishing with a time of 3:32.31 which is the eighth-fastest 4x400m time in USC history. Multi-talented freshman Amalie Iuel-Hammild from Norway has had a strong indoor season and figures to help us in the 400m, 400m hurdles, the heptathlon and perhaps the high jump.

    Though already a strength, we have added two top-tier talents and Tynia Gaither and Alexis Faulknor. The redshirt sophomore Gaither has a 200m PR of 23.17 and placed 12th in the event at the NCAAs last season. Faulknor I know very well as she had an outstanding freshman campaign at UCF last year. She earned first-team All-America honors in the 4x100m relay as the UCF team took second at the NCAAs with a time of 43.36. She also finished 14th in the 100m dash at the NCAA Championships with a time of 11.37w to earn second-team All-America honors.

    In addition freshman Cameron Pettigrew has run a 54.41 400m dash and placed 11th at the 2013 USA Junior Track & Field Championships in the 400m dash with a time of 55.60. She won the 2013 Illinois Indoor Class AAA title in the 400m dash with a time of 56.22.

    Our strength in the throws begins with the hammer throw, but does not end there. Senior Remington Conatser had the eighth-farthest throw in school history of 224-1 (68.30m) in his first season at USC, culminating with a second-place finish a the NCAAs. If Daniel Szabo returns to full health after sitting out last season following two hip surgeries, he can match Remy, but he still is having health issues. Freshman David Sellens of Yreka, Calif. will add to our depth in the hammer, shot and discus throws.

    Redshirt senior Jeffrey Churchman returns to compete in the men's javelin throw after elbow surgery more than a year ago. He experienced pain last season when he attempted to throw, so he had to shut it down. He is back pain-free and excited to put his name on the USC' all-time top 10 list in the event. Junior Diego Lopez also returns in his second season of throwing the javelin after coming to USC as a pole vaulter.

    Senior hammer thrower Jenny Ozorai has scored at the NCAAs every season while at USC. If she can accomplish that again, she would match Eva Orban as USC's only four-time All-American in the hammer. Ozorai sits on USC' all-time list in second place with a best of 223-4 (68.08m). Lauren Chambers is in her redshirt senior year and ranks seventh all-time in the women's hammer throw by a Trojan with a best of 206-5 (62.93m). She placed eighth at the Pac-12s in the event last season, has really looked good in the preseason and we are expecting this to be a very good year for her.

    Almost all of our female throwers will compete in the hammer, but junior Alexandra Collatz and sophomore Tera Novy will make their mark in the discus throw. Collatz took fifth at the 2013 NCAA Championships with a PR of 181-11 (55.46m) and continues to improve and work at her craft. She ranks second in the discus throw all-time by a Trojan female, eight feet off the school record. Novy had a strong freshman season with a best mark of 166-8 (50.81m) and has shown signs of being ready to take the next step this season. Collatz and Novy are also developing rapidly in the hammer throw and Novy is our top returning shot putter.

    Freshman Tanya Sapa figures to be a big part of USC's efforts in the throws. She placed second with PRs in both the shot put of 50-0.25 (15.25m) and the discus throw with a mark of 151-2 (46.08m) at the 2013 CIF State Championship and went on to take fourth in the California State Hammer Championships with a throw of 141-5 (43.10m). Julia Tseng and Erika Peyton will provide depth in the throws.

    Allen Williams and Viktor Fajoyomi are our top two returning jumpers. Williams set a PR with a triple jump of 49-8.25 (15.14m) last season and went on to place fifth at the Pac-12 Championships. Fajoyomi placed fourth in the long jump at the conference meet with a leap of 24-4.25 (7.42m). Slater was the 2011 CIF State long jump champion and I'm looking forward to see what he can do in a full health season. Junior transfer Jabre Millons will also compete in both events for us.

    Our women's team should be strong in the jumps. Faulknor was the C-USA outdoor long jump champion and posted a PR of 21-4.75 (6.52m). She then went on to win gold medals in the long jump and as part of USA's 4x100m relay at the Pan American Junior Championships in Colombia. Cox is also a top-flight triple jumper, finishing 11th at the NCAA Championships with a PR of 43-4.50 (13.22m), earning second-team All-American honors in the event. She ranks fifth on our all-time triple jump list. Another top returning triple jumper is senior Oluwakemi Olonade who ranks ninth on our all-time list with a best of 41-8.50. She had a strong season a year ago, placing fourth at the Pac-12 Championships and can move up our all-time top 10 list in the event. Sophomore Samantha Ojo and redshirt sophomore Malia Cravens will provide depth in the jumps. Cravens posted a 2013-best of 5-5 (1.65m) in the high jump.

    We have three men's high jumpers that have cleared seven feet in their career and if we can get them to reach that height consistently this could be a strength of ours. Fajoyomi has cleared 7-1.50 (2.18m), Dew 7-3.00 (2.21m) and Baynes 7-0.25 (2.14m). Also Doug Bogie is back for his senior season with a personal best of 6-7 (2.01m).

    Junior Myles Andrews will again be our top 800m runner. He has run a 1:48.95 and was ninth in the event at the Pac-12 Championships last season. Sophomore Kyle Iverson adds depth in the event and place 18th at the conference meet as a freshman. Our men's distance runners include redshirt freshman Josh Galen, redshirt sophomore Bryan Jordan, sophomore Andreas Spanos and sophomore Will Robinson.

    The women's distances will be manned by our cross country runners, led by junior Erica Capellino in the 800m and 1500m and sophomore Jenna Tong in the longer distances and 3000m steeplechase. In just a few attempts at running the steeplechase last season, Tong vaulted into fourth place on USC's all-time list with a best time of 10:59.73. She also won the steeplechase at the USC-UCLA Dual Meet.

    Our pole vault efforts will once again on the women's side be handled by redshirt senior Thea Weiss and sophomore Felicia Horvath. Weiss ranks sixth on our all-time list and continues to move the bar. Horvath had a best clearance last season of 12-0.50 (3.67m), but has jumped 13-3 (4.05m) before and we are hopeful she can reach those heights again. On the men's side, freshman Khalil Jackson took fourth indoors at the Virgina state meet last season and has really improved since arriving on campus.

    Fajoyomi and Jemal Williams will once again compete in the multi-events for us. Fajoyomi made a successful transition to the decathlon last season, registering the fifth-most points in the event ever by a Trojan and only figures to improve. He scored 7,299 points to place fifth at the Pac-12 Championships. If he can continue to work on his throwing event he could earn us big points at the conference meet this season. Williams improved across the board last year and this year can potential make a run at scoring at the conference meet. He took 10th last season with a PR of 6,646 points.

    I feel we have enough talent on our roster to compete with the best teams in the country and cannot wait for the outdoor season to begin. The Pac-12 Conference remains among the toughest in the country and we are taking on a tough schedule to face some of the best teams in the country, so we feel we will be prepared by having faced the best all season long. The USC program has remained among the tops in the country of late, but we want to make it the clear-cut best program and to do that we need to win championships.