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LSU track and field coach Dennis Shaver has the only program in the country with two top-five teams in the USTFCCCA rankings. The Lady Tigers are fourth and the Tigers fifth going into the SEC Indoor championships on Friday and Saturday.

is hoping to cover more event areas with points this season at the SEC and NCAA meets than in past years.

It might not show up Saturday, but the LSU men’s and women’s track and field teams figure to be more well-rounded this season than in past years.

After relying primarily on the sprints, hurdles and relays, LSU coach Dennis Shaver, who begins his 15th season as head coach and 24th season with the program, is expecting better balance in 2019.

But, he said, that’s a long-term goal for the seventh-ranked Lady Tigers and No. 17 Tigers.

With his teams getting just one week of practice in since returning from the holidays, many of them will be held out of Saturday’s UAB Invitational in Birmingham, Alabama.

It won’t be long, however, before they’re up to speed with the NCAA championships less than two months off.

“We won’t be relying so much on big points in the sprints, hurdles and relays on the women’s side — especially in the jumps,” Shaver said. “We hope that we’re pretty well-rounded.”

The jumps have been beefed up with a pair of transfers in pole vaulter Lisa Gunnarsson, an All-American last year at Virginia Tech and the silver medalist at the IAAF World U20 championships, and horizontal jumper Mercy Abire, a former Oral Roberts standout.

They will be added to a jumps group that includes Abby O’Donoghue and Kaitlyn Walker in the high jump to potentially give LSU some points it has missed out on at the NCAA indoor and outdoor meets.

Shaver also returns All-American sprinters Kortnei Johnson, Rachel Misher and Cassondra Hall to go with one of the nation’s top prep stars from a year ago in Sha’Carri Richardson.

Hurdlers Tonea Marshall, Brittley Humphrey, Jurnee Woodward and Milan Young are also back along with half-miler Ersula Farrow.

“A lot of those athletes were with us last year, but they were still young,” Shaver said. “We’re excited to get started again and see them compete.”

On the men’s side, Shaver and his coaching staff are excited about what they return and what they bring in, namely Mondo Duplantis, the world junior record holder and 2018 European champion in the pole vault.

“I just think we have a really talented men’s squad,” Shaver said. “It’s just like the women; we’re covering more event areas, actually more events, considering that we’re strong in the sprints and hurdles. Then, we added to the jumps.”

Shaver said Duplantis will be limited for most of the season considering the big meets he’ll be competing in, like the World Championships in late September and early October.

Duplantis, whose career best of 19 feet, 10¼ inches is the fourth-best mark ever recorded in track and field history, is one of four LSU athletes who medaled at the World U20 championships last summer.

He won the gold medal in the pole vault, while Jake Norris (hammer) and Damion Thomas (110-meter hurdles) joined him on the top step of the awards stand. JuVaughn Harrison (high jump) came home with the bronze.

Like Duplantis, Thomas is the world junior record holder in his specialty.

Returning to join Harrison in the jumps are veterans Rayvon Grey, Da’Quan Ballard and Christian Miller, while Jaron Flournoy, Correion Mosby and Kary Vincent are returning stalwarts in the sprints and relays.

“We look at the youth we have, but we have some experienced guys back, so that’s pretty exciting to see,” Shaver said. “I actually think that this is one of the more talented squads we’ve had on that side.”

Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.