In any other year, LSU track and field coach Dennis Shaver might be a little apprehensive going into a new season after losing a handful of NCAA Championship-caliber athletes to graduation.
In fact, it could be downright scary to think about when the athletes helped win the NCAA outdoor women’s title and the men came up two points shy of a national championship, even though the Lady Tigers later vacated their title because a team member used a banned stimulant.
But as usual, Shaver filled in the holes as best as he and his coaching staff can. They restocked the program with a blend of high school and junior-college recruits to go with a solid group of experienced returnees, which has Shaver optimistic about more top-five finishes at the national meets.
“Anytime you have a great season like we had last year, you’re going to wind up losing some of your top-notch athletes through graduation,” said Shaver, whose teams open the season Saturday at the Crimson Tide Indoor Opener in Birmingham, Ala. “So it’s a normal year for us. We have a good, solid nucleus returning on both the men’s and women’s teams, and we have great leadership to go with it.”
The Lady Tigers will lean heavily on All-America sprinter Kimberlyn Duncan — who last month won The Bowerman as the nation’s top collegiate track and field athlete of 2012 — middle-distance star Charlene Lipsey and hurdler Jasmin Stowers.
The Tigers’ top returnees are long jumper Damar Forbes, quarter-miler Caleb Williams and sprinter Aaron Ernest, a sophomore who won a gold medal and two silvers at the World Junior Championships last summer.
“We’ve got some pretty good ones there to start with, and then we tried to surround them with some new talent,” Shaver said. “We also had a lot of younger athletes from last year that we’ve seen some development in who are prepared to compete, too.
“I thought we had a very good recruiting year to meet our needs. You fill some voids and try to be competitive. This will be like any other season for us. It’ll be fun to see how they mature and develop.”
The women’s team lost a handful of stars in sprinter Semoy Hackett, quarter-milers Rebecca Alexander and Jonique Day, intermediate hurdler Cassandra Tate and pole vaulter Rachel Laurent. The Tigers lost an equally talented bunch in hurdler Barrett Nugent, sprinter Keyth Talley, quarter-miler Riker Hylton, jumper Kyron Blaise and hammer specialist Michael Lauro.
Despite the losses, the Lady Tigers are ranked fourth, the highest-rated Southeastern Conference team, in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s preseason poll. The men’s squad comes in at No. 10.
The main reasons are four junior transfers — three from the highly successful South Plains (Texas) College program. That group includes jumper Keri Emanuel, middle distance standout Natoya Goule and hurdler Shana-Gaye Tracey. Another hurdler, Nikita Tracey, comes to LSU from Oklahoma Baptist.
Freshman high jumper Shanice Hall is another prized recruit. Shaver said he is especially excited about the addition of Emanuel and Hall to beef up the jumps areas and provide more scoring balance in the field events.
Top newcomers on the men’s side are hurdlers Joshua Thompson and Joshua Lamers, sprinter Darrell Bush and quarter-miler Cyril Grayson. Thompson, who competed at the world juniors last summer, transferred from Pittsburgh; Lamers, Bush and Grayson are true freshmen.
Shaver is hoping Thompson and Lamers will offset the loss of Nugent, while Bush and Grayson help negate the losses of Talley and Hilton.
So will, Shaver said, the continued development of Ernest, middle distance runner Quincy Downing and discus thrower Rodney Brown.
The three gems of the 2012 recruiting class all made the U.S. team that competed in the world juniors.
In addition to Ernest, the silver medalist at 100 and 200 meters and the anchorman of the winning 4x100-meter relay team, Downing earned a gold medal in running the leadoff leg on the 4x400 unit.
“Those guys picked up valuable experience last summer because they kept training and were competing the whole summer,” Shaver said. “So we’re excited about them and the season.”