After a primer at the Southeastern Conference championships two weeks ago, the LSU track and field teams will face a different kind of challenge over the next three days.
There are no points up for grabs, nor are there titles to strive for at the NCAA East Preliminary rounds in Jacksonville, Florida.
But having the ability to score points and earn national honors at the NCAA championships in two weeks is tied to the performances of the second-ranked Tigers and eighth-ranked Lady Tigers this weekend.
That’s why the goal for coach Dennis Shaver’s teams in this meet, which is in its current format for the seventh year, is survive and advance.
Survive the first round and advance to the quarterfinals with the goal of reaching the national semifinals and finals in Eugene, Oregon.
While it sounds simple, it isn’t even though LSU has 50 total chances — 26 for the women and 24 for the men — to get them closer to the ultimate goal of high team finishes at Eugene.
“The goal is to advance as many athletes as we can to the semifinals,” Shaver said. “Basically, we’re taking the same approach we have since this format came in (in 2010). The only thing they have to think about is advancing.”
The top 12 men’s and women’s finishers in each individual event and top 12 teams in relays advance to the semifinals. The NCAA selection committee accepted the top 48 entrants from the national descending list in each event and 24 teams in the two relays.
The 12 individuals and 12 relay teams will meet the qualifiers from the NCAA West Preliminary rounds, which are being held simultaneously in Lawrence, Kansas, in the national semifinals.
While they still have to go out and do it, more than half of LSU’s 50 entrants — 14 men and 14 women — are inside the top 12 in the East.
“We encourage them to know what the advancement rules are and take advantage of the opportunities we have to get in the top 12 and advance,” Shaver said. “Basically, our season is a five-day national meet for both the women and men with the first three days here in Jacksonville.
“The more opportunities you create here means a better chance of a higher national finish when you get to Eugene.”
Both of Shaver’s teams are expected to be in the hunt for top-five finishes after solid performances — especially in the sprints, hurdles and relays — at the SEC championships.
The Tigers and Lady Tigers combined for 148 points on the track in the final day of the meet with the men piling up 83 and women 65. They took two individual titles and three relay crowns on the last day of the meet.
The men have three national leaders going into the preliminary rounds.
Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake leads the nation in the 200 meters with a time of 19.65 seconds and is fifth in the 100 with a best of 10.09 seconds. He also anchors the 4x100-meter relay that leads the nation at 38.33 seconds.
Mitchell-Blake claimed both sprint titles at the SEC meet and finished off the sprint relay win with a team that included Jaron Flournoy, Renard Howell and Tremayne Acy.
The 4x400 relay team of LaMar Bruton, Michael Cherry, Cyril Grayson and Fitzroy Dunkley also leads the nation with a best of 3 minutes, 00.38 seconds. That group won the SEC title with a time of 3:00.48.
Howell also ranks third in the nation in the 200 after clocking a 20.15 in finishing second to Mitchell-Blake at the SEC meet, while Cherry has the third-fastest time in the nation in the open 400 at 45.17 seconds.
On the women’s side, LSU goes into the prelims with some momentum, especially in the 4x100 after Mikiah Brisco, Kortnei Johnson, Jada Martin and Rushell Harvey recorded the second-fastest time in the nation this season with a 42.77.
Morgan Schuetz also ranks third nationally in the 800 meters with a time of 2:02.29.
“It’s one day at a time,” Shaver said. “Both teams have five days of an NCAA championship coming up over the next two weeks, so it’s important that we not get too far ahead of ourselves and take each day as it comes.”
Sophomore hurdler Daeshon Gordon, who competed in this meet in the 100- and 400-meter hurdles a year ago and placed eighth in the shorter distance at the NCAA finals, is no longer with the Lady Tigers.
Shaver said Gordon was dismissed for an undisclosed violation of athletic department policy just before the SEC championships.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.