Mickles: Expansion gives parity to SEC track

COLUMBIA, Mo. — At the end of the four-day Southeastern Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships on Sunday evening, LSU coach Dennis Shaver was looking for a few more points for his women’s team.

So when Arkansas coach Lance Harter stopped by to exchange pleasantries, Shaver asked to borrow a few points — six to be exact.

The problem was Harter couldn’t help out even if he wanted to. He needed nine more himself that would have put his team over the top after Texas A&M — the new kids on the SEC block — won with 117 points.

That was five more than LSU and eight more than Arkansas, two teams accustomed to fighting for points. LSU had won three straight SEC outdoor titles, most recently with 1611/2 points last May, while Arkansas took the indoor title in February.

“This conference is nuts,” Harter said, pointing out LSU’s total last year. “At this meet, we had world leaders, American leaders, Olympians. There’s so much parity that 117 points won it … and those points are hard to get.”

So hard that Florida, which also is used to winning SEC titles, settled for fourth with 106 points. That means 11 points separated the top four teams.

The men’s race wasn’t that tight, although the same four schools that led on the women’s side showed up again. Arkansas won with 1521/2 points, with Florida (123), Texas A&M (118) and LSU (721/2) following.

The effect that Texas A&M and Missouri had on the meet showed up more this weekend than at the indoor meet because events like the 4x100 relay, 10,000 meters, discus and javelin aren’t contested indoors.

“You’ve got Texas A&M and Missouri taking some points away,” Shaver said. “Even though Missouri wasn’t up there, they scored points that other teams would have gotten.”

Still, Shaver was pleased with how his teams competed as they began looking ahead to the NCAA meet.

The Lady Tigers, who came up five points shy at the SEC indoor meet as well, should be in the title hunt after battling the Aggies.

“This (conference) meet was about performance,” Shaver said. “The next meet is about advancing.”

Shaver thinks he has the firepower with Kimberlyn Duncan, who posted the second-fastest time in the world in the 200 meters Sunday, and NCAA leader Natoya Goule in the 800, as well as two strong relay teams and an assortment of others who will try to pick up some lower-end points.

Duncan will be in the mix to score points in the 100 after completing a second straight 100-200 SEC sweep, while Charlene Lipsey and Jasmin Stowers can score quality points in the 800 meters and 100-meter hurdles.

Shaver was also excited about his men, who were fourth after being expected to finish fifth or sixth.

“Both teams competed extremely hard to the end, but the men’s team had a better meet than we could have ever imagined on paper,” he said. “A lot of people stepped up, and both teams scrapped to the end. So I feel good about that.”