LSU track eyes revamp for NCAAs

LEXINGTON, Ky. — After four days of competition in the Southeastern Conference track and field championships Sunday afternoon, LSU coach Dennis Shaver was looking to his teams’ next meet.

There was plenty of reasons for wanting to look ahead.

With the NCAA East preliminary rounds coming up in a week and a half, the seventh-ranked Lady Tigers and ninth-ranked Tigers will get a chance to atone for uncharacteristically low finishes Sunday at the conference meet.

The Lady Tigers finished sixth with 651/2 points, and the Tigers were eighth with 43, leaving Shaver wanting more — especially on the men’s side.

While he isn’t used to seeing his teams finish sixth and eighth at the conference level, and was certainly disappointed in the final standings, the good news is a poor finish at the SEC meet doesn’t mean anything at nationals.

To be sure, the challenge has gotten much tougher with the addition of Texas A&M to an already power-laden conference that had 17 men’s and women’s teams ranked in last week’s U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association polls.

It would also be easy to blame the subpar finishes on nasty weather and the fact that Shaver held back some of his injured athletes to ensure their availability for the NCAA championships.

But the twin top-six finishes he still hoped for didn’t materialize, even though the Lady Tigers managed to cobble together enough points to reach that goal despite not getting the stick around in the 4x100-meter relay — long one of their signature events.

“We’re disappointed in what we did here,” Shaver said pointedly. “This is an important meet, and we want to be better because it’s the first championship meet of the outdoor season.

“It’ll be interesting to see what kind of leadership we have in the next couple of weeks,” he added. “We have to regroup and get some good training in and get ready for Jacksonville (site of the NCAA East preliminary rounds). It’ll be a challenge.”

Especially for the men’s team.

While the Lady Tigers were without star freshman sprinter Jada Martin for the 100 and 200 meters, even though she did run on the 4x100, the men competed without Darrell Bush, a quarter-miler and valuable 4x400 relay member.

On top of that, sprinters Aaron Ernest, Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, Tremayne Acy and Shermund Allsop — who make up Shaver’s top 4x100 unit — were coming off leg injuries.

To compound the problem, the Tigers scored just eight points in the field, with six of them coming on Rodney Brown’s third-place performance in the discus. Brown, the defending champion in the event, threw 10 feet less than the school record he set at the Penn Relays last month.

Shaver also lamented the fact that the Tigers didn’t get enough points out of the eight athletes they advanced in running prelims Friday and Saturday.

Vernon Norwood picked up eight points on a second-place finish in the 400, but LSU got only 13 points from the other seven qualifiers.

Ernest, who is one of the conference’s top sprinters when completely healthy, finished sixth in both the 100 and 200 meters, which Shaver attributed to a heavy workload after returning to competition just a month ago.

“The positive thing about this weekend is that no one will be more motivated than Aaron Ernest or Rodney Brown,” Shaver said. “We just have to get home and regroup and get ready to go to the east prelims. This group certainly has a chance to finish in the top 10 at the NCAA meet … maybe top five.”

Of course, Shaver is confident after a good showing at the NCAA indoor championships in March when the Tigers managed to finish eighth even though Ernest and Mitchell-Blake were sidelined with leg injuries.

That eighth-place national finish came after they were 10th at the conference meet, so Shaver knows it can be done.

“We actually did a little better at this outdoor meet than we did at this (SEC) meet indoors,” he said. “The women can do a little better, too. We can finish in the top 10 with the men and women. It’s going to be a huge challenge, but we’re capable of doing it.”

Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.