After four months of preparation, conditioning and training, the LSU track and field teams will finally get a chance to compete in a meet Friday.
It couldn’t come soon enough for coach Dennis Shaver, who’s ready to see where his Tigers and Lady Tigers stack up at this point when they host the annual Purple Tiger Invitational in the Carl Maddox Field House.
The meet begins at 2:30 p.m. with field events, while track finals get under way at 4:50 p.m. and wrap up around 9:45 p.m.
The Lady Tigers and Tigers, who were 12th and 14th, respectively, in the preseason national rankings released Wednesday, will step on the track for their first collegiate competition since the 2015 season came to a close at the NCAA outdoor championships in June.
Mississippi State tops the list of teams that will participate in the meet. Joining them and LSU will be several Louisiana programs, including UL-Lafayette, Southeastern, Tulane, UNO, Nicholls State, McNeese State, Northwestern State and Louisiana Tech.
“It’s going to be a good early-season test for some of our people,” Shaver said. “Others are going through a hard training cycle this week and won’t open up until next week, but we’re excited about getting out and doing something.
“We’re just coming back this week from a two-week break for the holidays, so we’ll get to see where we’re at,” he said. “For the most part, they did a really good with the training workouts we gave them over the holiday vacation.”
Shaver welcomes back a solid nucleus on the women’s side from the freshman- and sophomore-laden team that tied for ninth at the NCAA indoor meet. The biggest loss for the Lady Tigers was All-American shot putter Tori Bliss.
The top returnees are sprinters Jada Martin, Mikiah Brisco, Aleia Hobbs and Rushell Harvey; hurdlers Chanice Chase, Daeshon Gordon and Kymber Payne; middle distance ace Morgan Schuetz; and jumper Nataliyah Friar.
Hobbs, however, will be day-to-day in the indoor season after having knee surgery in August. While she has been cleared by doctors, Shaver said she’ll be brought back slowly after missing all of the fall preps.
Brisco, a hurdles and sprint star at Baton Rouge High, will compete in the short hurdles this season after concentrating on the sprints and 4x100-meter relay outdoors last season.
To that solid group, the Lady Tigers added a trio of promising freshmen in sprinters Kortnei Johnson and Rachel Misher, the daughter of former Tigers’ NCAA hurdles champion Allen Misher, and jumper Shayna Yon as well as 400-meter specialist Christian Brennan, a junior transfer from Oregon.
The Tigers lost a few more pieces to graduation — namely sprinter Aaron Ernest, hurdler Quincy Downing, thrower Rodney Brown and quartermiler Vernon Norwood, a two-time NCAA 400-meter champion who represented the U.S. in the World Championships in August.
But Shaver has some key returnees back in sprinter Tremayne Acy, hurdler Jordan Moore, and quartermilers Fitzroy Dunkley, Darrell Bush and Cyril Grayson from the team that tied for seventh at indoor nationals.
The Tigers added junior-college thrower Johnnie Jackson and three transfers in quartermilers Michael Cherry (Florida State) and LaMar Bruton (Ohio State) and sprinter Tinashe Mutanga (Oral Roberts).
“You worry about team chemistry when you lose guys like Aaron, Vernon and Quincy, but the transfers have come here with a great ethic, and they’re hungry to do well,” Shaver said. “They were going to wind up someplace in the SEC, and we were fortunate to get them here. So we couldn’t be happier.”
Shaver said his teams are ready for the challenge of a long season.
“I think we’re going to be a much better team this year with the women, because we’ll be deeper. And we’ll have a good men’s NCAA team as well,” he said. “I’m eager to see how we respond, but both teams have been nothing but impressive this fall.”