Fred Harvey is happy with a head start.
As the Arizona track and field coach sat in the Tucson airport on Thursday afternoon, waiting for his delayed layover flight to Las Vegas — final destination Pullman, Washington — his squad already had eight points in the bag for this weekend’s Pac-12 championships. That is, on the women’s side.
“That’s what I’m so excited about,” Harvey said. “It’s one of the first times in a long time that we’ve come into the main body of a meet with a good number of points to start us off with.”
Sunday, Amber Passalaqua came in third place in the heptathlon.
After last year, Harvey will take all the points he can. In the 2013 championships at USC, the Wildcat women finished in second place with 123 points, just 16 behind Oregon, which won its fifth straight title. The men came in seventh.
This year’s Pac-12 championships will start today at Washington State with preliminaries, then the competition will start Saturday and continue thorough Sunday.
The women are ranked No. 12 in the nation; the men are not ranked. Here are three things to watch:
The Pac-12 is good, particularly Oregon. The Ducks have won five straight women’s conference titles, and seven straight men’s.
“We fully understand and embrace the conference that we’re in,” Harvey said. “If you’re a top 4-5 team in the Pac-12, you’re doing some very special things ... Still, my expectation is for both the men and women is to be top five.”
Lawi Lalang doesn’t have much more to prove. He’s a seven-time NCAA champion and collegiate record holder.
He’s also a three-time Pac-12 champion. Last year, he won the 1,500 meter race with a time of 3:38.53.
Harvey expects “much of the same” this weekend from Lalang, he said. And Lalang is just the crown jewel of a well-accomplished UA senior class.
There’s also jumper Nick Ross, a two-time Pac-12 champion, thrower Julie Labonte, an Olympian and two-time NCAA champion, and Shapri Romero, a two-time NCAA All-American.
Last year she finished third in the 400 meters with the second-best time of her career. This year, she wants to one-up herself.
She’ll compete in the 200, 400, the 400-meter relay and the 1,600-meter relay.
“I’m confident,” Romero said. “For the 200, I’m going for the record. I really want it here, it would be awesome to break the record where it was made.”
Ross, the boss
Harvey’s expectations are high for both the men and women. But, realistically, the women’s team is probably in better shape.
Still, the men have some explosive athletes.
“We don’t have many guys, but our firepower on the men’s side is just incredible,” Harvey said. “If you think about the quality. Nick Ross, Lawi, (thrower) Jordan Young. Those three guys alone are going to score a tremendous amount of points.”
Ross, in particular, is one to watch. At a dual meet on May 4 in Tucson, Ross set a UA record with a high jump of 7-6½. He’ll compete in that event, the triple jump and long jump, and Harvey thinks he can win all three.
“It would be unbelievable,” Harvey said. “But I’m telling you, right now, in advance, it’s a strong possibility that he can do that.”