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For USC and UCLA, anything goes, in any sport

The intracity rivalry isn't confined to football and basketball. Whenever and wherever Trojans and Bruins get together, whether on the track, in the pool or across a volleyball net, sparks are sure to

November 23, 2009|By David Wharton
  • The 1971 dual track meet between USC and UCLA includes Willie Deckard, far left, taking the baton from Ron Pharris and Warren Edmonson, far right, handing off to Wayne Collett.
The 1971 dual track meet between USC and UCLA includes Willie Deckard, far… (Los Angeles Times )

His teammates tried their best to explain, but Warren Edmonson did not quite understand.

It was the spring of 1971 and the talented young sprinter had come south from Oakland to run track for UCLA. The crosstown rivalry was new to him.

"We hate 'SC," the other runners said. "We've got to beat them."

Only when Edmonson arrived at a dual meet against the Trojans did he truly comprehend. The Bruins' stadium, tucked neatly into a corner of campus, had been transformed by more than 12,000 noisy, agitated fans.

"There was no place to sit," he recalled. "They were hanging off the rails."

When it comes to USC versus UCLA, most people think of football and basketball -- especially at this time of year -- but the long-running feud goes way beyond marquee sports.

Bad blood spills onto soccer fields and baseball diamonds. The animosity can turn swimming pools boiling hot.

"You want to win so badly," former USC tennis player Chris Lewis said. "You want to kill them."

That 1971 dual meet still ranks among the greatest in the history of college track and field, marked by unexpected performances and a nail-biter finish. It is an overlooked gem in the USC-UCLA rivalry.

There are others.

'Us versus them'

The 1979 men's volleyball championship looked like an upset in the making.

The underdog Trojans got off to a quick start, winning the first game against an undefeated UCLA team led by future greats Karch Kiraly and Sinjin Smith.

"We thought we had their number," former USC player Pat Powers recalled.

Then disaster struck.

Kiraly fed the ball to Smith at the net and USC setter Dusty Dvorak went for the block. When the players came down, Dvorak landed on Smith's foot, turned his ankle and was done for the night.

"That was the end of us," Powers said. "It's like losing your quarterback."

As one star fell, another emerged.

UCLA's Joe Mica came off the bench to spark a comeback, his team sweeping the next three games to win the title and become the first college volleyball team to record a perfect season.

"When we started out shaky, I knew that this was the only way I was going to get a chance," Mica said then. "I knew I would be able to show what I could do."

Players on both squads had grown up together and would later be reunited on the 1984 Olympic team, but none of that mattered when the Bruins and Trojans met on court.

"You had to win," Powers said. "It was an us-versus-them mentality."

The traitor

The people Tauna Vandeweghe went to school with at UCLA, especially the athletes, howled when she transferred to USC.

"You're a traitor," they said. "How could you?"

Vandeweghe was an All-American swimmer for the Bruins -- "We loved to trounce USC," she said -- and her brother, Kiki, was a basketball star who led the Bruins to the 1980 NCAA championship game. But now she wanted to play volleyball, where she still had some eligibility left, and when the UCLA coach cut her it was Kiki who suggested they drive across town to USC.

"Hey," she recalled, "I just wanted to play."

By the winter of 1981, Vandeweghe was taking the court in cardinal and gold, hearing boos fill Pauley Pavilion as she faced her old school in the first-ever NCAA women's volleyball championship.

The eighth-ranked Trojans had lost all three of their matches to a more talented UCLA team that season but were coming on strong, the surprise of the tournament.

The Bruins won two of the first three games before the match reached a turning point, the teams fighting through 11 consecutive side-outs. USC finally broke through and, with setter Cathy Stukel feeding the hitters, scored an upset victory in five games.

For Vandeweghe, it felt like vindication.

"I was going against old teammates and I knew them very, very well," she said. "But I just wanted to kind of shove it down their throats."

Clash of titans

The Trojans ruled women's basketball in the early 1980s thanks to a not-so-secret weapon. Her name was Cheryl Miller.

A four-time All-American, Miller led USC to national titles in her freshman and sophomore seasons, then went gunning for a three-peat in 1984-85. What could the Bruins possibly do against the most dominant women's player of the era?

They answered with the greatest female athlete of the 20th Century.

Though Jackie Joyner-Kersee is now famous for winning three gold medals in the Olympics -- a star in the heptathlon and the long jump -- back then she was just Jackie Joyner, a starting forward at UCLA.

Joyner was part of a 1-3-1 zone defense that coach Billie Moore employed to blanket Miller. When the teams met in early February, the USC star scored only two points in the first half and ended up shooting 32% as the Bruins won.

Some considered the upset a fluke, but UCLA came back a month later and, with the same kind of defensive effort, scored another victory to become the only team to sweep the Trojans with Miller on the roster.

'A horrible day'

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