Mississippi State’s men might not win the overall NCAA championship in Eugene, Ore., this week, but there is another, unofficial title the Bulldogs could claim.
When the NCAA Track and Field Outdoor Championships begin today, MSU’s sprinters will be gunning for a new level of glory. Coach Al Schmidt has been saying this is the best group of sprinters he’s had in 22 years as MSU coach, and the Bulldogs have been among the fastest in the country all season.
Can they be faster than everyone this week and earn the right to call themselves the best sprint team in the nation?
Junior Emanuel Mayers, who will be running in the 400-meter hurdles and on the 4×400 relay team, said that’s not talked about among the team members. But it’s on their minds.
“Everybody has an idea of what we can accomplish on the track,” Mayers said.
State, which will have six sprinters competing in five events, will get its stiffest competition from Texas Aamp&M and Florida. MSU has been neck and neck with those two schools all season and got the best of them both at the Penn Relays in late April.
Sophomore O’Neal Wilder called the rivalry with those schools “intense,” and Mayers said it provides a little extra motivation for MSU.
“In the past, other Mississippi State teams, we were always the underdog, having to go in and accomplish things,” Mayers said. “But this year we’re actually on top, and we’re competing with the best.”
With all of MSU’s athletes in Eugene being sprinters, the Bulldogs’ overall showing is completely on their shoulders. They’re currently ranked ninth in the country as a team and have a real shot at topping their best-ever NCAA finish of tied for 15th, in 2002.
MSU’s women are sending six athletes, and coach Al Schmidt thinks both squads can reach new heights.
“We’ve got enough firepower to do something,” Schmidt said. “These guys and gals are on a roll, and they look very good. This is probably the best situation we’ve ever had with every athlete in every situation.”
Young Rebels aim high
No. 19 Ole Miss is expected to make a little racket, too, and here’s the best part: the Rebels are young.
Five of the men’s eight entrants are freshmen and sophomores, and freshman Ricky Robertson might have the best shot at bringing home an individual title, in the high jump. He’s ranked first in the country with a best jump of 7 feet, 5.75 inches.
He’ll be pushed, as he has all season, by teammate Brian Knight, who’s ranked third in the country.
“I think that’s a great thing to have, two guys jumping against each other, and they’re friends and teammates,” Ole Miss coach Joe Walker said. “It’s always good to have somebody there with you doing that, pushing you, making you work.”
Junior Barnabas Kirui will try to recapture past glory in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, which he won at the 2007 NCAAs. Back problems have pushed him back down the ladder since then.
“When Barnabas is healthy, I would pick him as the favorite,” Walker said. “But we just never know when his back’s going to flare up on him.”
The Lady Rebels have seven athletes competing this week.
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal