After competing for times and marks for most of the outdoor season and team points more recently at the Southeastern Conference championships two weeks ago, the LSU track and field teams will switch gears this weekend.
For three days, the one and only goal for the sixth-ranked Lady Tigers and ninth-ranked Tigers will be to advance to the next round in the NCAA East preliminary rounds beginning Thursday in Jacksonville, Florida.
The first round and quarterfinals will be in Jacksonville with the West preliminary rounds going on at the same time in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The top 12 athletes in individual events and top 12 units in the relays from each region advance to the NCAA semifinals and finals June 11-14 in Eugene, Oregon.
As he’s done since the current format was adopted, LSU coach Dennis Shaver has made things as simple as possible for the Lady Tigers and Tigers accepted into the competition.
While there’s nothing wrong with posting solid times and marks, what’s really important is getting to the next round. LSU has 50 opportunities to advance — 29 for the Lady Tigers and 21 for the Tigers.
“We look at this competition as a seven-day NCAA championship meet,” Shaver said. “We take it one day at a time, one round at a time. They have to make the most of each opportunity, and we have to make them understand that there is no tomorrow if they don’t do it.”
While there’s no pressure to score points at this meet, the Lady Tigers and Tigers will still be asked to secure as many spots as possible in the national meet for a chance to convert them into valuable team points at the next stop.
“That’s the biggest challenge this week,” Shaver said. “They have to prove that they can be consistent through these first two rounds. If you aren’t (consistent), you’re not going to be in Eugene.”
Shaver said his teams, which competed at the SEC championships without some of his top sprinters and several others that weren’t yet in top shape after struggling with injuries, are ready for the challenge.
“Everybody is healthier than they’ve been all year,” said Shaver, who was cautious with several sprinters at the SEC meet in order to have them ready for this competition. “The biggest concern is the lack of competition for some, but we’ll battle through it one event at a time. They know exactly what they have to do to get to Eugene.
“These first three days are about performing consistently,” he added. “We need to see more of that, especially on the women’s side, and we need to see better performances from some to be in that top 10 or 12. We have athletes that are talented enough, so they just have to do what they need to do.”
The Lady Tigers have 10 individuals and one relay team ranked among the top 10 in the East region.
The list is headed up by Keri Emanuel, who ranks first in the long jump (21 feet, 63/4 inches), and Jasmin Stowers, who is second in the 100-meter hurdles (12.81 seconds).
Jada Martin (200, 22.96), Denise Hinton (hammer, 218-0), Nikita Tracey (400 hurdles, 56.23), Lynnika Pitts (triple jump, 43-41/2) and Tori Bliss (56-91/4, shot put) are all ranked third in the East.
Also, the Lady Tigers’ 4x100-meter relay team of Stowers, Kiersten Duncan, Martin and Rushell Harvey have produced the third-fastest time in the region at 43.72 seconds.
The top hopefuls for the men, who have six individuals and two relays in the top 10, are Vernon Norwood and Aaron Ernest.
Norwood leads the region in the 400 with a time of 45.17 seconds, while Ernest is second in the 200 at 20.14 seconds.
Rodney Brown has the third-best mark in the discus with a school-record 210-10.
The Tigers’ 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams are both ranked second in the region.
Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, Ernest, Tremayne Acy and Shermund Allsop have posted a 38.68 in the sprint relay, while Quincy Downing, Darrell Bush, Cyril Grayson and Norwood have a season’s-best of 3 minutes, 2.81 seconds.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter: @MicklesAdvocate.