By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – For the time being, Mississippi State sits atop the sprinters’ heap. The trick now is to stay there.
After a dominant performance last weekend at the prestigious Penn Relays in Philadelphia, MSU’s motor men have nosed in front of schools like LSU and Texas A&M in the race to be the nation’s fastest group.
“It’s a three-round fight, so it’ll be the SEC and then NCAAs,” MSU coach Al Schmidt said. He was referring to the SEC meet, scheduled for May 13-16 in Knoxville, Tenn., the NCAA Regionals (May 27-29) and NCAA Championships (June 9-12).
On Saturday, MSU won Championship of America titles in the 4×200 and the 4×400, edging out Florida in the former and Texas A&M in the latter.
In the 4×100, State won the college title, finishing ahead of South Carolina.
After the meet, Schmidt called it “a historic day for the Mississippi State track and field program.”
On Monday, he said, “The 4×4 has been, of all the championships, the most elusive one to win. It’s the most glamorous of the relays.”
That 4×400 team was comprised of Justin Christian, D’Angelo Cherry, Gerron Hendricks and Tavaris Tate. Just a freshman, Tate ran in all three events. He had to hold off Florida’s Calvin Smith, the world’s fastest 400-meter runner this year, on the last leg of the 4×200.
“He’s a guy that you almost have to shoot to keep from a win,” Schmidt said of Tate.
It’s the talent of young guys like Tate and sophomore O’Neal Wilder, along their ability to handle pressure-packed atmospheres like the one in Philadelphia, that make this team so well-rounded.
In the latest rankings from the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association, MSU’s men slipped from No. 10 to No. 12 (these are the first rankings of 2010 not to include 2009 data). The 4×400 squad is ranked No. 6, the 4×100 at No. 7.
If the sprinters keep up their current pace, they could find themselves No. 1 come June.
“It just means a lot to us and our program. It shows that we are going in the right direction,” junior Emanuel Mayers said Saturday. “Everybody around is training really hard, and it’s great to see it pay off.”
The relay squads have been invited to the Jesse Owens Track Classic in Columbus, Ohio, this weekend. Schmidt thinks they’re peaking at the right time.
“It obviously doesn’t do you any good to run fast early,” he said. “You’ve got to run fast at the end, and we seem to be doing it.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.