NORMAN — The University of Oklahoma track and field teams are headed west to compete in the Rafer Johnson/Jackie Joyner-Kersee Invitational in Los Angeles, Calif., on Saturday.
“The names on the meet mean a lot,” says head coach Jim VanHootegem. “Rafer Johnson and Jackie Joyner Kersee are legends in our sport. And Drake Stadium is one of the venerable stadiums in track and field. I think this is the sort of fun meet where you can get on the road and show what type of team you have.”
OU last competed in this meet in 2015 and it was a successful trip. The Sooners men recorded 12 season bests and the women had 13. That year, the meet was set up as a dual between Oklahoma and UCLA, with UCLA winning both, 99-46 (men) and 104-52 (women).
VanHootegem hopes that meets with UCLA are more of a common occurrence and plans are already in the works to make sure OU has a presence in Los Angeles and top-talent like UCLA will be in Norman for years to come.
“We want to have a good rivalry with UCLA, kind of a cross-country rivalry with them. They are scheduled to come to the John Jacobs meet in 2018. Bruin head coach Mike Maynard and I have talked about setting up an annual rivalry. Every other year, we go to Drake Stadium and then they make a return trip the next year.”
Several current Sooners were part of that year’s competition and will be making their return to The Golden State. Trae Armstrong, Payton Baker, Leya Buchanan, Thomas Cheval, Daunicia Demerson, Garrison LeRock, Kelsey McKee, Mia Mukes, Charles Nguyen, T.J. Noonan, Ama Pipi, Makayla Stephens, Bennie Wesley, Carl Williams and Jess Woodard, will all be making return appearances. Woodard won the discus and Armstrong won the 100-meter dash.
Unlike previous competitions, the entire meet will take place throughout the course of one day. Also, unlike the last time at UCLA, joining the Sooners at the picturesque Drake Stadium will be eight other college teams - Cornell, Utah State, Air Force, Cerritos College, Riverside City College, Central Arizona, UC Riverside and host UCLA. UCLA is ranked 12th on the men’s side and 29th on the women’s in the latest United States Track & Field Cross Country Coaches Association rankings. The OU women are ranked No. 22 in this week’s track and field rankings.
For scoring purposes, individual events will be scored 5/3/1. Relays will be scored 5/0. NCAA Division I schools will be scored separately from the junior college teams.
“It’s a scored meet and we are putting people where coaches think they should be. Whether that’s an off weekend or it means a different event or someone doing one event, we want to be competitive. Where we do line up, we want to be competitive.”
Opening up the meet will be the women’s hammer at 10:30 a.m. (CT), with the men’s hammer and women’s long jump to follow at noon. Track events will begin at 3:15 p.m. with the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase. The final event scheduled is the men’s 4x400-meter relay, with a start time of 8:05 p.m.
Going into the fourth week of outdoor competition, VanHootegem is looking for certain members of the team to continue to build on their success, and for others to step up into a leadership role and in production.
“We are certainly feeling good about our women’s team in terms of people who are very consistent in going out and competing. There’s always going to be some people that are in some sort of phase of trying to figure it out. For the most part, there are a good number of people who understand how to compete week in and week out. We are still looking for more leadership on the men’s side and we’ve been looking for that all year.
“I think there just has to be a lot of care. When you see people who care, that usually turns out better for them. When people don’t care as much, then the results aren’t going to find their way to them. We just need people who care and people who are into it.”
Live results can be accessed through www.finishedresults.com. FloTrack will be streaming the meet, but it requires a subscription. A recap will be posted at the conclusion of the meet. Updates will be posted throughout the day on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (OU_Track).