After two low-key meets to start the indoor season, the LSU track and field teams will take a step up in competition the next few weeks.
A tough four-meet stretch — each of them on the road — begins with the Conference Class Power Five Invitational on Friday and Saturday in Birmingham, Alabama.
The inaugural Conference Clash pits LSU and seven other Southeastern Conference teams against seven teams from the other Power Five conferences at the site of the NCAA indoor championships in mid-March.
So this weekend’s competition will serve a dual purpose for coach Dennis Shaver’s program.
The Tigers and Lady Tigers will get an early-season test from the competition while running on a banked track for the first time this season, while newcomers will get to check out the Birmingham Crossplex facility they hope to return to in March if they qualify for nationals.
“We’re really looking forward to it and this weekend, of course,” Shaver said. “We liked the way the first two home meets turned out, but a lot of our athletes weren’t competing in their specialty. They were able to get out there and do something, so this will be another step in the process for our program.
“We really can’t run the 200 or 400 meters effectively at home, so this will be an opportunity to get something done on a banked track. Plus, a lot of the top-25 teams in the nation will be there, so it’s going to be a very competitive environment for our athletes.”
LSU will join forces with fellow SEC members Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt against Texas (Big 12), Purdue and Ohio State (Big 10), Florida State and Georgia Tech (ACC), and Arizona and USC (Pac-12) in the two-day scored meet.
Only the top two scorers from each side will factor into the overall points total. Points will be awarded on a 5-3-2-1 basis in each individual event, with relay teams gaining five points for a win and three for second place.
“The competition will be good,” Shaver said. “It should be a great meet.”
While they were limited the first two weeks, LSU athletes did turn in some solid performances — especially on the women’s side with freshmen sprinters Kortnei Johnson and Rachel Misher in the 60 meters and sophomore Mikiah Brisco in the 60-meter hurdles.
Johnson and Misher will line up in the 60 this weekend along with Brisco, who placed fifth at the NCAA indoor championships a year ago. Junior Jada Martin, who was eighth in the NCAA outdoor 200 meters last spring, will line up in that race for the first time this season.
Long jumper Nataliyah Friar will go in her specialty for the first time after running the 60 in the first two meets, while distance runner Morgan Schuetz will line up in the 3,000 meters one week after climbing to third on the school’s all-time list.
On the men’s side, Shaver said sprinters Tremayne Acy and Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, who redshirted last season, are off to good starts as are hurdler Jordan Moore and thrower Johnnie Jackson.
The Tigers may also run what’s expected to be their top 4x400-meter relay unit for the first time with a lineup that includes returnees Fitzroy Dunkley and Cyril Grayson and transfers LaMar Bruton and Michael Cherry.
“We’ll have a great idea of where we stack up on a national level as a team this early in the season with what we do in this meet,” Shaver said. “There will be some tremendous performances in a meet like this.”