After years of opening the season on the road, the LSU track and field teams will get to compete in familiar surroundings for a change to help them gradually ease into a long indoor-outdoor campaign.
With renovations to the Carl Maddox Field House now complete, the Tigers and Lady Tigers will host the LSU Invitational on Friday in a meet that will help get them ready for the Auburn Indoor Invitational in Birmingham, Alabama, next weekend.
Louisiana-Lafayette, Southeastern, Nicholls State and McNeese State are among the state teams competing in the meet, which begins at 2:30 p.m. with field events. Running prelims will start at 3:30 p.m. with championship finals getting underway at 4:55 p.m.
Getting an early competition in was important for LSU coach Dennis Shaver considering his athletes returned to campus Sunday evening following the holidays.
Getting to do it at home in the new-look Field House was a bonus.
“Actually, we’re starting a week earlier than in the past because we have the facility available to run home indoor meets,” Shaver said. “It gives our athletes an early competition and an opportunity to compete in at least one of their events prior to going to Birmingham.”
That was next to impossible in recent seasons because the Field House, built in the early 1970s, had become antiquated.
Some of the renovations, including a new running surface, were completed late last indoor season. Other amenities, including new meeting rooms and locker rooms for the two teams, and more seating, new restrooms and concession areas for fans were finished in the summer and fall.
“Really, this will be the first opportunity to have a meet where everything is set up the way we envisioned it to be,” Shaver said. “It gives us a lot of additional space for meet operations and it’ll make management of meets much smoother and easier. It should also enhance the experience for the fans.”
Naturally, Shaver is more interested in seeing what happens on the track.
His men’s team returns nearly intact after tying for fourth place at the NCAA outdoor championships last June, while the women’s squad has some new faces to go with several important holdovers from a team that was sixth at nationals.
“Both of our teams, without question, are going to be better outdoors than indoors based on what our strengths are,” Shaver said, “but we’re eager to get going again.”
The list of returnees for the Tigers is long, starting with four All-Americans — sprinters Aaron Ernest and Vernon Norwood, hurdler Quincy Downing and thrower Rodney Brown.
Norwood and Downing formed half of the 4x400-meter relay team that won the national title at the indoor championships last March, joining Darrell Bush and Cyril Grayson, before they combined to take third at the outdoor meet.
Others expected to contribute in the indoor season are pole vaulter Andreas Duplantis, hurdler Joshua Thompson, thrower Jeremy Tuttle, middle distance runner Blair Henderson and triple jumper Jonathan Pitt.
The Lady Tigers took some major hits when All-Americans Jasmin Stowers, Lynnika Pitts and Denise Hinton all completed their eligibility.
But a solid group of returnees is led by sprinter Jada Martin, hurdlers Chanice Chase and Mariah Georgetown, long jumper Nataliyah Friar, shot putter Tori Bliss and middle distance runner Morgan Schuetz.
Shaver is also looking forward to see what he has in a heralded recruiting class that includes former Louisiana prep standout sprinters Mikiah Brisco and Aleia Hobbs as well as hurdlers Daeshon Gordon and Danielle Phillips, quartermiler Keterra Harris, and throwers Gabby Figueroa and Sidnie Wilder.