When the Southeastern Conference track and field championships heat up Friday after the first day of the multi-events on Thursday, some coaches will have one eye on the competition and the other on the weather.
That includes LSU coach Dennis Shaver, who is taking a somewhat cautious approach with some of his athletes in what is expected to be a cool and damp weekend in Lexington, Kentucky.
It was only 54 degrees when the meet began Thursday afternoon with the decathlon and heptathlon as well as the women’s hammer.
The temperature will go up only slightly over the next three days, which means Shaver isn’t going to risk losing some of his key athletes to muscle strains or pulls with the NCAA preliminary rounds starting in less than two weeks.
“Anyone that’s not ready or has some sort of an injury problem, we’re not going to risk it,” Shaver said. “We feel like we can still make progress over the final month of the season, but you can’t do it if they get hurt again and you don’t have them.”
While finishing in the top half of the SEC is a goal going in, getting healthier is bigger when you consider six of LSU’s best sprinters — five on the men’s side — have been slowed by hamstring issues at stages of the indoor and outdoor seasons.
It’s not a comforting thought going into a meet that features nine of the nation’s top 21 men’s teams and eight of the top 18 women’s teams in the latest U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association polls.
But Shaver said a number of coaches are going through the same thing with Texas A&M and Florida, who competed in the LSU Invitational on May 3, among the teams also dealing with some health issues.
Florida is atop both USTFCCCA polls. Joining the Florida men in the top 10 are No. 2 Texas A&M, No. 3 Arkansas, No. 6 Georgia, No. 9 LSU and No. 10 Alabama. Holding down spots in the women’s top 10 are No. 4 A&M, No. 5 Kentucky, No. 6 Georgia, No. 7 LSU and No. 8 Arkansas.
“The thing about this meet is half the people competing this weekend will be in finals at the NCAA championships,” Shaver said. “So it’s going to be a challenge, but we feel like we’re prepared for it despite the injuries we’ve had.
“We’re going to hold a couple of people out, even though they probably could run. With the way the weather is expected to be, we feel like it’s best not to push it with them.”
Two that won’t participate are Lady Tigers freshman Jada Martin and Tigers sophomore Darrell Bush. Martin would be in the 100 and 200 meters and 4x100-meter relay, while Bush would have been in the open 400 and 4x400 relay.
Other LSU sprinters who’ve been hampered by leg problems are Aaron Ernest, Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, Shermund Allsop and Tremayne Acy.
Ernest and Mitchell-Blake, however, are fit enough to line up after missing most of the indoor and outdoor seasons. Both are entered in the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay, which the Tigers won last season, although that’s subject to change depending on the conditions.
Ernest will be favored to win the 200 after posting a time of 20.14 seconds in the LSU Invitational. That time, which took more than two-tenths of a second off his old PR of 20.38, was the fourth-fastest in the world and second-fastest in the NCAA this year. Another favorite for the Tigers is discus thrower Rodney Brown, who broke a 25-year-old school record at the Penn Relays with a best of 210 feet, 10 inches.
On the women’s side, Jasmin Stowers, who set a PR in the 100-meter hurdles last month with a time of 12.81 seconds, will vie for her third SEC title after winning in 2011 and ’12.
The Lady Tigers got off to a good start Thursday when Denise Hinton and Karen Henning collected 10 points for LSU in the hammer. Hinton finished second for the second year in a row with a throw of 204-7 and Henning was seventh at 183-6.
In the heptathlon, LSU’s Therese Jernbeck is in 11th place with 2,973 points after four events. Jernbeck won the shot put with a throw of 42-83/4.