Fred LaPlante recalls that when he became USC's women's track coach in 1984, he had only 10 athletes to work with.
That's enough for a basketball team but way too few for track and field with its many events.
Nonetheless, the program has grown into one of the strongest in the country. LaPlante's women figure to contend for the Pacific 10 and NCAA championships, figuratively taking the baton from the once flourishing men's program.
Scholarship limitations have burdened all private schools with high tuition costs, and problems of ineligibility and injury, in particular, have diluted the strength of the Trojan men's team this year.
LaPlante, whose women's team will meet equally strong UCLA today at Drake Stadium, says it's unfair to make comparisons with the men's program.
"On the women's side, you have a number of Jim Thorpe-type athletes right now," La Plante said. "I have more scholarships than the men (16 to 14), I have less events and women, with development, who are more versatile. So you can have a pretty good dual meet team."
It isn't unusual for women to compete in several events in a dual meet. For example, USC's Wendy Brown is entered in the javelin, long and triple jumps, high jump, and the 100 and 100-meter hurdles in the UCLA meet.
UCLA's Gail Devers will be even busier. She is expected to compete in the long and triple jumps, 100, 200 and 100-meter hurdles, and both relays, 400 and 1,600.
The men wouldn't even attempt such a demanding schedule.
"There is a lower quantity of quality among the women compared to the men," LaPlante said. "Wendy Brown, or Gail Devers, might be doing less events if those events were the difference between getting third or fourth place. The way it is, both can be a factor in winning those events.
"Ten years from now, we'll probably be more like the men if the women get more quantity of quality athletes. You won't see that person who can stretch out and do three or four events.
"Gayle and Wendy are also a factor at a national level in three or four events, which is unheard of at the men's level. Maybe a guy could do two events and a relay."
LaPlante pointed out that Daley Thompson, the Olympic champion and world record-holder in the decathlon, would be hard-pressed to win more than one event in the men's dual meet.
Even though LaPlante has a strong team with more athletes than he had three years ago, he said his squad isn't as deep as he would like it to be.
"We still have problems getting someone to come to school without a scholarship," he said, noting that a full ride at USC costs $16,000. "We only have 21 people with 16 on track scholarships. Wendy Brown is on a basketball scholarship and (high jumper) Yleana Carrasco is on a volleyball scholarship."
Even so, LaPlante has a well-balanced team.
"When I came to USC, I wanted to spread out scholarships. I have found that if you recruit four kids for the 400, you're dealing with a delicate ego problem. Some kids rise to the top and others fall out of contention.
"What we try to do is get a blue chip-type kid in each event. At least, when they come out to practice they're not worried about whether they're going to make the team."
The USC-UCLA women's meet figures to be more entertaining from a competitive standpoint than the men's meet. UCLA's men are a substantial favorite.
It was that way last year when the women's meet came down to the last event, the 1,600 relay, with USC's Leslie Maxie out-kicking Devers on the anchor leg to provide the Trojan women their first victory over the Bruins.
LaPlante said that the meet will be just as competitive today.
"Taking the emotional side away and being realistic, I've honestly doped the meet to come out to a 68-68 tie."
UCLA's Jim Banich, who figured to win both the shotput and discus today, is ineligible to compete. Banich, as a redshirt freshman, competed unattached in the 1983 USC-UCLA dual. The meet, also involving New Mexico, was originally scheduled as a non-scoring meet, but it was scored, nonetheless. "The Pac-10 has a rule that a redshirt athlete can't compete in a conference scoring meet," UCLA Coach Bob Larsen said. "Even though Banich competed against unattached athletes in that meet, he can't compete against USC Saturday because of a technicality in the rules." . . . Today's meet will begin at 11 a.m. with women's field events. Men's field events start at 1 p.m.
UCLA lost 33 straight meets to USC before winning for the first time in 1966. The track shoe is on the other foot now. The Bruins have beaten the Trojans eight straight times and 12 times in the last 14 meetings. It's unlikely that the trend will be reversed today. The Bruin men's team is not only one of the best dual meet teams in the country, it also will be contending for the Pacific 10 and NCAA championships. USC has some quality athletes but not the numbers to threaten UCLA today.