FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — For the past three weeks, the LSU women’s track and field team has held steady at the top of the U.S. Track and Field & Cross Country Coaches Association power rankings.
LSU coach Dennis Shaver will be the first to tell you, however, that polls and power rankings are only an indicator of what a team is capable of in a big meet like the NCAA Indoor Championships.
Which is why Shaver thinks as many as five teams can claim the title in the two-day meet, which begins Friday at the Randal Tyson Track Center.
While LSU is the pre-meet favorite to collect its first NCAA indoor title since 2004, when the Lady Tigers won in the same building, Shaver isn’t about to discount Kansas, Arkansas, Oregon and Texas A&M — the next four teams in the rankings.
LSU has 10 scoring opportunities, but No. 4 Oregon (13), second-ranked Kansas (12) and No. 5 Texas A&M (11) have more. Arkansas, which is ranked third, goes into the meet with nine scoring chances.
But LSU may have the quality to end Oregon’s three-year run as indoor champion with nine of 10 scoring opportunities ranking among the top seven on the descending order list. The Lady Tigers’ 4x400-meter relay team ranks ninth.
“I think we have enough scoring opportunities qualified for this meet to make a run,” Shaver said. “But four teams have enough opportunities, too. Going into the first day, it looks like it could be a five-team race.
“It’ll come down to the team that takes advantage of the scoring chances they have.”
LSU’s strong contingent is led by Kimberlyn Duncan, who is the only Lady Tigers athlete to qualify in two events.
Duncan, who’ll go after her third straight title in the 200 meters with a world-leading time of 22.54 seconds, ranks second in the nation in the 60 with a time of 7.16 seconds.
Duncan claimed a second straight 200 meters title at the NCAA outdoor meet last June in helping LSU to the team championship, but the title was later vacated when Semoy Hackett tested positive for a banned stimulant that was an ingredient in a nutritional supplement.
Duncan said she and returning members of the championship team — like hurdler Jasmin Stowers and middle distance star Charlene Lipsey — used the disappointment as motivation for this season.
“We were determined we weren’t going to let it bring us down,” Duncan said. “We said we weren’t going to dwell on it, even though we still felt like we won it as a team. When it was time to focus at the start of the indoor season, we got it together and worked harder.”
Like Duncan, Lipsey is the national leader in the 800 meters at 2 minutes, 2.48 seconds.
The Lady Tigers also have the second-ranked half-miler in Natoya Goule at 2:03.08, while Stowers has recorded the third-fastest time in the 60-meter hurdles at 8.06 seconds.
“Everybody that was at that meet last year was disappointed, but we’re motivated to go out and do well again,” Stowers said. “We’re not going to be hindered by what happened last year. We’re No. 1 right now and we want to show we’re capable of winning (the title) again.”
LSU’s other NCAA qualifiers are Keri Emanuel and Lynnika Pitts in the triple jump, Takeia Pinckney in the 60, Denis Hinton in the weight throw and the 4x400 relay.
Emanuel and Pitts rank fourth and sixth in the triple jump while Pinckney and Hinton rank seventh in their events. The mile relay team ranks ninth.
Two of the final events Saturday night — the triple jump and 4x400 — could be crucial to LSU’s chances, but Shaver is hoping it doesn’t come down to that because of his team’s firepower in the 60, 200, 800 and hurdles.
“The athletes we have in this meet handled the competition well at the SEC indoor meet, so we feel good about that,” Shaver said of the Lady Tigers’ runner-up finish Feb. 23-24 at Arkansas. “At the same time, the other teams have people that are capable of lining up and competing well.
“If we equal the performances that got us here, or a little better, we’ll be all right and we’ll be satisfied with what we get.”
On the other side, the 15th-ranked Tigers have only three entrants.
Aaron Ernest is the world leader in the 200 with a time of 20.53 seconds and Damar Forbes ranks second in the nation in the long jump with a best of 26 feet, 53/4 inches. Also, the 4x400 relay team ranks ninth.
Their short list of qualifiers is a product, Shaver said, of some athletes not making the improvements they would have liked.
But he’s hopeful they can still have a top-10 finish.
“Realistically, if we hit (with Ernest and Forbes) and get a few points in the relay, we can get to 21,” Shaver said. “If we do, we could be in the top 10.”