When the first two rounds of the NCAA track and field championships unfold at two sites Thursday, there will be at least a couple of differences from last year’s preliminary rounds.
But as far as the LSU program is concerned, the objective is the same as it has been since the current format was adopted in 2010: survive and advance.
That’s the only goal for the third-ranked Tigers and eighth-ranked Lady Tigers and nearly 100 state athletes who qualified going into the NCAA East preliminary rounds, which begin Thursday at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Florida.
Twelve athletes in each individual event and 12 teams in the relays from the three-day meet will join the survivors from the West preliminary rounds, which are being held in Austin, Texas, in the national semifinals and finals June 10-13 at Eugene, Oregon.
LSU has qualified 43 entries with 23 on the women’s side and 20 on the men’s. Nearly three-fourths of the Tigers’ and Lady Tigers’ entrants — 16 women and 15 men — rank in the top 12 in the East.
Still, they know nothing is guaranteed at this meet even though both finished a strong fourth in the Southeastern Conference championships two weeks ago.
That competition featured nine men’s teams and nine women’s teams among the top 25 in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s rankings, an encouraging sign for LSU coach Dennis Shaver going into what he likes to refer to as a seven-day NCAA meet.
“We feel good right now,” Shaver said Wednesday. “We’re healthy, and we came out of the SEC meet in good shape. All we have to do is line up day by day and take it one event at a time in Jacksonville, and see how we do.”
The LSU men and women go into the meet with four East leaders — three individuals and one relay.
Tori Bliss leads the East and nation in the women’s shot put with a throw of 60 feet, 8 inches, and Rodney Brown also is the national leader in the men’s discus at 213-5.
Vernon Norwood leads the East and ranks second in the nation in the men’s 400 at 44.44 seconds and also teams with Joshua Thompson, Tremayne Acy and Aaron Ernest to top all East entrants in the 4x100-meter relay with a best of 38.78 seconds.
While the goal of advancing is the same as it has been, there are two differences in this year’s NCAA championships.
First, the preliminary rounds will signal the start of a five-day NCAA meet for both genders. After the three-day meets in Jacksonville and Austin, the men and women will compete for two days in Eugene with the men going Wednesday and Friday and the women taking the stage Thursday and Saturday — instead of men and women all competing over the four-day period.
“It’s going to be a little different from the past,” Shaver said. “The fact that it’s a five-day meet now instead of a seven-day meet kind of added a little extra thought into determining who competed in what events.”
Also, there will be only three attempts in the throws and long and triple jumps for competitors to make their marks and earn top-12 finishes.
“It’s going to be different, but our athletes are well-prepared,” Shaver said. “They understand how the meet is run, and they’re looking forward to accepting the challenges that come with this meet.
“We’ve been hammering it home all year, especially with the field events,” he said. “This is the way we should’ve been doing this all along. The athletes that are well-prepared and confident and consistent in their performance should do well in those events at this meet.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.