With seven competitions behind them, the LSU track and field teams will begin the process of vying for postseason honors this weekend in the Southeastern Conference indoor championships.
The Tigers and Lady Tigers hope to use the two-day conference meet, which begins Friday in Lexington, Kentucky, as a stepping stone to the NCAA championships in two weeks.
As usual, it’ll be an interesting two days with 16 men’s and women’s schools showing up in the latest U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association top 25 power rankings competing on Kentucky’s oversized track.
The LSU men are sixth in the USTFCCCA rankings, coming in behind top-ranked Florida, No. 3 Arkansas and No. 4 Texas A&M. Georgia (seventh), Alabama (11th), Tennessee (13th) and South Carolina (21st) also have spots in the top 25.
On the women’s side, LSU, which is ranked 18th, is one of eight SEC teams in the rankings. Arkansas, Georgia and Florida hold down the top three spots, while Texas A&M (seventh), Kentucky (ninth), Mississippi State (18th) and Missouri (20th) also are ranked.
“The goal always is to finish in the top half in this meet with both teams because of the strength of the league,” LSU coach Dennis Shaver said. “Our men could be in the top four or five, but I don’t know how realistic that is on the women’s side.”
The Tigers have a talented group of experienced competitors that is topped by sprinter Aaron Ernest, quartermilers Vernon Norwood, Quincy Downing, Darrell Bush and Cyril Grayson, hurdler Joshua Thompson and thrower Rodney Brown.
“The men are almost the opposite of the women’s team,” Shaver said. “We lost a lot from last year’s women’s team, so we’re very young and inexperienced — especially at this meet. The men’s team also is pretty healthy for this meet after having a lot of injuries at this stage in the season a year ago.”
Ernest, a senior who was among a large group of injured Tigers last season, will be trying to return to the victory stand after winning the 200 meters at this meet in 2013. He has the second-fastest time in the league with an altitude-adjusted mark of 20.73 seconds.
Brown ranks third with a best of 69 feet, 3¼ inches in the weight throw, and Thompson is third with a time of 7.73 seconds in the 60-meter hurdles. The men’s 4x400-meter relay, anchored by Norwood, is seeded third with a time of 3 minutes, 4.28 seconds.
“We really don’t have enough depth in the field events, so we’re probably a better team at nationals than at the SEC level,” Shaver said. “We’ll see how we stack up here and then again in two weeks (at nationals).”
The Lady Tigers’ top hope for an individual title, which would extend a streak of at least one in the past 29 seasons, lies with senior shot putter Tori Bliss. Bliss, runner-up at the NCAA outdoor championships last spring, leads the SEC and is second in the nation with a personal best and indoor school record of 57-4¾, set Jan. 24 at Kentucky.
The women’s distance medley relay team ranks third in the conference with a time of 11:19.10, but the Lady Tigers hope to score big points in the sprints and hurdles with sophomore Jada Martin and three talented freshmen in Mikiah Brisco, Aleia Hobbs and Daeshon Gordon as well as sophomore middle distance runner Morgan Schuetz.