To have a shot at winning its first men’s title at the NCAA outdoor track and field championships since 2002, fourth-ranked LSU is going to have to do more with less.
Of the top teams in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s power rankings, LSU will have the fewest scoring chances in the national semifinals and finals that get underway Wednesday in Eugene, Oregon.
The four-day meet is divided into genders for the second year in a row; the men will compete Wednesday and Friday, while the women will have the stage Thursday and Saturday at Hayward Field.
The Tigers advanced 10 entrants through the NCAA preliminary rounds held May 26-28, half of Arkansas’ 20 and seven fewer than Oregon and No. 1 Texas A&M with 17 each. Alabama and Florida have 12 each.
But at this stage, it’s what you make of them that matters.
“Honestly, we’re going into this meet with the fewest scoring opportunities of the top title contenders,” LSU coach Dennis Shaver said. “We just have to go out and hit everything.
“We’ve got to line up in the semifinals and pretty much advance everybody to the finals. We also have to compete really well in the relays, but we think we have a legitimate shot.”
Likewise, the fourth-ranked Lady Tigers must make the most of 14 scoring opportunities — both in the semifinals and finals — in the hopes of earning a top-four finish and a spot on the awards stand.
But the men will go first.
Maximizing their opportunities in the semifinals makes Wednesday a huge day for LSU because the Tigers will have all 10 entrants on the track — eight have top-eight marks in their respective events this season.
The top eight finishers in the finals earn points for their team.
The day will start and end with LSU’s 4x100- and 4x400-meter relay teams, which have recorded the fastest times in the nation this spring.
The sprint relay team of Jaron Flournoy, Renard Howell, Tremayne Acy and Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake have a best of 38.33 seconds, while LaMar Bruton, Michael Cherry, Cyril Grayson and Fitzroy Dunkley have run 3 minutes, 00.38 seconds in the mile relay.
Of course, Cherry, Dunkley and Bruton could play huge roles in their primary event — the open 400.
Cherry ranks third in the nation with a time of 45.17 seconds and Dunkley had the eighth-fastest time at 45.34, while Bruton ran 45.99 to get into the semis.
While LSU and Florida each have three entrants in that race, Arkansas, Oregon and Texas A&M only have one each.
“I don’t know if there is one key, but the 400 is big because it may be the only event that all of the top five teams have someone in,” Shaver said. “But when you have only 10 chances, all of them are important.
“If we can, we’d like to go in (the 400) and beat those teams. … It’s giving us points and taking some away from them. That’s huge in a meet where the top three or four teams could be separated by single-digit points.”
In addition to the relays and 400, LSU could also score big in the 100 and 200.
Mitchell-Blake leads the nation in the 200 with a time of 19.95 seconds and Howell is third at 20.15. Mitchell-Blake also ranks fifth in the 100 at 10.09. LSU’s other competitor in the top eight is Jordan Moore, who had the seventh-fastest time in the nation in the 110 hurdles with a 13.53.
On the other hand, the Lady Tigers will have to work a little harder for their points because they don’t have as many top marks.
LSU has only five entrants among the top-eight times in the nation, but the Lady Tigers had a strong effort at the NCAA East preliminary rounds.
The top marks were turned in this season by the 4x100 relay team of Mikiah Brisco, Kortnei Johnson, Jada Martin, Rushell Harvey, which had the second-fastest time at 42.77 seconds, and Morgan Schuetz, who was third in the 800 with a 2:02.29.
But the 4x400 team of Travia Jones, Jada Martin, Rachel Misher and Chanice Chase shaved nearly two seconds off their best this season in qualifying for the meet with the fourth-fastest time of the prelims at 3:29.91.
Johnson could also be a factor in the 100 and 200, Martin is LSU’s best bet to score in the 200, Brisco is in the 100 meters and 100 hurdles as well as the sprint relay, and Chase will try to make the finals in both hurdles.
“I think the women’s team is competing really well right now,” Shaver said. “I can imagine us putting on a good run and trying to get in the (top-four) trophy conversation.”