Not just another day at the track

Big rallies, big performances mark USC dual meet sweep over UCLA Sunday where every point counted for the men, including some from football.

There are 19 events in a college dual track and field meet.

But schools are limited by NCAA rules to 12.6 scholarships.

You do the math.

Well, USC Director of Track and Field Caryl Smith Gilbert, a former three-time All-American at UCLA, has done just that in two years rebuilding the Trojan program into one to be reckoned with -- like old times here.

The women are No. 1 in the nation with the men No. 4 last week.

And that's despite the built-in disadvantage, especially in dual meets where so many events must be run and fields filled out by walk-ons. At a school like USC where the annual cost of education is upwards of $67,000, that's no easy task.

But for Smith Gilbert, it's no excuse. Just another bump in the road that USC had to run past and jump over in what seems like no time.

Any "mixed emotions," she was asked after both Trojan teams had come from behind large UCLA leads to win Sunday with the men doing so by the smallest margin possible in the history of the series -- 82-81 -- with a 5-0 scoring advantage on the final 4X400 event.

"No mixed emotions," Smith Gilbert said, "I love it here. I'm all in."

Just like her Trojans teams. "Is running that hill fun?" she asked them as they sat, ready to celebrate, after the twin wins.

"No," they screamed in one loud voice.

"Is winning fun?" she asked them.

"Yes," they screamed even ouder.

And then they joined for one big cheer, where you notice the small gold "Z" on the back of their cardinal jerseys. It just all seems to go together that Louie Zamperini is looking down at these Trojans and smiling.

"We run LA," Smith Gilbert concluded for her team with an emphasis on the "run." The top-ranked USC women, down 39-6 after the first five events, turned it around for a 93-70 win, their seventh in the last eight seasons. The Trojan sweep was the first since 2010.

And it was pushed along by all sorts of small victories. Nick Ponzio managed just a third in the shot put despite upping his personal record by a half-inch. "I'll get it back in the disc," he assured Smith Gilbert. And did he ever -- with a PR of 185-3, 16 feet past his previous best this season, to bring the USC men within reach at 76-73.

That's where Smith Gilbert's "we" here is the key. For USC football fans, that includes long jump winner Adoree Jackson, who also gave the 100 meters a shot for the first time since he was a junior in high school. He started slowly, carefully.

"I have to work on my starts," he said with a grin. With football and the long jump taking up most of his spring, Adoree hadn't gotten around to that yet. And still, on a team with the best sprinters in the nation, he was the one closing fastest at the end, finishing with a personal-best 10.51 in an event where USC's Andre De Grasse, the nation's No. 1 sprinter in both the 100 and 200, and Beejay Lee, finished 1-2.

"Like in the spring game when I caught Steven Mitchell, that's what I do," Adoree said. "This is great experience for me, being around these great athletes. . . . today the way we finished might have been more exciting than football."

But there were a number of football elements here. USC holder and backup/Scout team quarterback Conner Sullivan joined the track team as a first-time javelin thrower, finishing fifth with a respectable throw of 176-10.

And there was D.J. Morgan. More about the former footballer and world-class junior hurdler in a column tomorrow, but a healthy Morgan, maybe for the first time in his USC career, scored points in two events -- with a second in the 110 high hurdles with a personal best and then a diving finish for third in the 400 meter hurdles, an event he hadn't run in six years.

The football theme continued in the crowd, with brothers Sam and Randall Cunningham there to watch their nephew and son, Randall Jr., win the high jump with a leap of 7-2 1/2. Senior Michael Krone, a grad school transfer from Duke, tied for second. Another one of those "every little bit helps" mements that mattered so much here.

But De Grasse, the native of Toronto, who now owns the Canadian record in the 200 and the Loker Stadium record in the 100, was the star here his first time out in this meet and he could not be happier where he finds himself and how he's doing.

"Coach Caryl found me at a junior college in Kansas," he was saying. "For me to come in here and be a part of this great tradition . . . I wasn't trying for a personal record, just trying to score points," after recording a Loker Stadium best of 10.04 in the 100 meters.

Asked about the "Cry On" tee-shirts UCLA had broken out Saturday, Lee just laughed and said it didn't bother him. "That just told me they were thinking about us," he said.

As well they might. With the Pac-12 meet this week at UCLA, Smith Gilbert sent her teams off with this last word: "Fight On to Westwood."

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.


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