Even though he’s been around the Southeastern Conference for more than two decades, to say LSU track and field coach Dennis Shaver knows what to expect this weekend wouldn’t be totally correct.
It’ll be a whole new world at the SEC Indoor Championships with the addition of two newcomers — Texas A&M and Missouri — to the usual 12-school mix for the three-day meet that begins Friday in Fayetteville, Ark., with the multi-events.
“It’s going to be a new experience for everybody,” Shaver said. “It’s certainly not the same SEC meet that it has been in the past. With the two new teams, it certainly changes the dynamics of the meet.
“But we’re looking forward to the challenge it presents.”
The challenge, as Shaver sees it, is more competition — especially from Texas A&M, which had an unprecedented string of three straight NCAA outdoor championship sweeps for the men’s and women’s teams snapped in June. So what has often been referred to as a mini-national meet became even tougher, Shaver said.
His top-ranked Lady Tigers will go against five of the next 13 teams in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association rankings — No. 3 Arkansas, No. 6 Florida, No. 7 Georgia, No. 9 Texas A&M and No. 14 South Carolina.
In the men’s division, SEC teams hold the top three spots in the rankings with Arkansas at the top followed by Florida and Texas A&M. LSU is ranked 16th with Ole Miss at No. 19.
For the LSU women, who moved to the top of the national poll two weeks ago, the goal is to continue to build on the first six weeks of the season while looking to the NCAA Indoor Championships in two weeks at the same venue.
“The women’s team continued to show improvement throughout the season,” Shaver said. “I think Arkansas and Florida are favored because they have a little more depth for the makeup of a conference championship meet, but we certainly want to do well at the same time.
“We’ve got one more step to try and prove ourselves as being one of the top teams in the country. With the teams that we’re going against, we have a great opportunity to improve on our performance before nationals.”
LSU is led by Kimberlyn Duncan and Jasmin Stowers, who will be trying to become only the second athletes to win three straight SEC indoor titles in their respective events.
Duncan has won the past two titles in the 200 meters, while Stowers is the two-time defending champion in the 60-meter hurdles.
Duncan leads the SEC in both the 60 and 200 with times of 7.16 seconds and 22.72 seconds, respectively, while Stowers ranks second in the hurdles with a season’s best of 8.19. Duncan leads the nation in the 60 and has the second-fastest time in the 200.
LSU’s Charlene Lipsey will also look to defend the SEC title she won at 800 meters last season. She ranks second in the NCAA with a time of 2 minutes, 03.76 seconds, just behind teammate Natoya Goule’s 2:03.49.
Also atop the SEC list is Denise Hinton, who has a best of 70 feet, 91/4 inches in the 20-pound weight throw.
Shaver said his men’s team will face an even bigger challenge during a rebuilding year.
“The real challenge for the men is trying to be able to get themselves up there and make a run at being in the upper half of the final standings,” he said. “The problem is Arkansas is so strong that they’re going to dominate the meet; second place isn’t going to be close. So when one team dominates like they can, it’s difficult for the other teams to rack up points.
“Florida and Texas A&M should be there fighting for second, but after that it’s going to be a mad scramble.”
LSU’s top individual title contenders are Damar Forbes in the long jump and Aaron Ernest in the 60 and 200 meters.
Forbes ranks third in the league and the nation with a best of 26-0, while Ernest, a sophomore, is second in the SEC and third in the nation with a season’s best of 20.79 seconds in the 200 meters.