'Battle on the Bayou' Preview: The Teams
BATON ROUGE – The LSU Track & Field teams will continue the 2013 outdoor season this weekend as they play host to the third-annual “Battle on the Bayou” meet on Saturday while welcoming four schools to Baton Rouge for an exciting scored competition being held at LSU’s historic Bernie Moore Track Stadium.
The event features four women’s teams and five men’s teams as this marks the third-straight season in which the Tigers and Lady Tigers have hosted one of the nation’s strongest scored meets.
The Lady Tigers are the new No. 1-ranked team nationally in the latest Track & Field News Women’s Collegiate Dual Meet Top 25 Rankings following their sweep of No. 11-ranked UCLA and No. 25-ranked TCU over the weekend at the Rafer Johnson/Jackie Joyner-Kersee Invitational held at UCLA’s Drake Stadium. They are now a perfect 4-0 in dual meet competitions during the 2013 season. Joining the Lady Tigers in the meet are No. 8-ranked Arizona State, No. 14-ranked Penn State and unranked Mississippi State in this week’s dual meet rankings.
The Lady Tigers are also the nation’s No. 5-ranked program in this week’s U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Top 25 women’s power ranking released on Tuesday.
Since Saturday’s competition features the maximum of four teams allowed in a scored-meet format, the final women’s standings at this year’s “Battle on the Bayou” will be factored with Track & Field News’ Women’s Collegiate Dual Meet Top 25 Rankings that will be updated on Tuesday, April 16.
The Tigers enter the weekend ranked No. 10 nationally in the USTFCCCA Top 25 men’s power ranking and No. 12 in the Track & Field News Men’s Collegiate Dual Meet Top 25 rankings released this week. Other squads ranked in this week’s USTFCCCA Top 25 are No. 13 Mississippi State, No. 17 Arizona State and No. 19 Penn State, while Connecticut rounds out the men’s field.
Saturday’s action heats up at 1:45 p.m. CT following a brief opening ceremony, while the morning session is set to begin at 10 a.m. with the first field events of the meet. Below is a breakdown of the programs slated to join the Tigers and Lady Tigers during the competition. Teams are listed in alphabetical order.
Arizona State boasts one of the country’s strongest combined programs year in and year out, while securing four national championships under the direction of head coach Greg Kraft. That includes the sweep of NCAA Indoor and NCAA Outdoor team titles by the Sun Devil women in 2007 before their men and women swept NCAA Indoor team titles in 2008.
In fact, Arizona State is the only other program in the NCAA to sweep men’s and women’s team titles at the NCAA Indoor Championships as they join LSU’s double in 2004.
And the Sun Devils make the trip to Baton Rouge with a powerful roster of field event athletes, led by national champion shot putter Jordan Clarke and a trio of national title contenders on the women’s side with Anna Jelmini, Christabel Nettey and Keia Pinnick providing the fireworks.
Clarke, who has yet to open his outdoor season in 2013, is the two-time defending NCAA Outdoor champion in the shot put with gold-medal-winning performances as a sophomore in 2011 and as a junior in 2012. From Anchorage, Alaska, Clarke defended his NCAA Indoor crown in his last shot put competition at the NCAA Indoor Championships on March 8 as he is now a four-time national champion in the event.
Jelmini and Nettey enter the weekend as the NCAA leaders in their respective events a Jelmini is a national title favorite in the discus and Nettey is a medal contender in the long jump this season.
After claiming back-to-back NCAA Outdoor silver medals as the national runner-up in the discus in each of the last two seasons, Jelmini has her sights set on her first career national championship as she leads the NCAA with a career-best throw of 198 feet, 10 inches set at the Mesa Classic just last weekend. Jelmini is also an All-America contender in the shot put after taking fifth place in the event at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
Nettey is the first collegiate athlete to eclipse 22 feet in the long jump in 2013 after jumping a wind-legal 22-1 ¾ at Arizona State’s Sun Angel Classic on Saturday. The NCAA Indoor silver medalist hopes to strike gold this outdoor season as she holds a five-inch lead over the No. 2-ranked jumper in the NCAA rankings this spring.
Pinnick is a national championship contender in her own right as one of the nation’s premier multi-event athletes after claiming the NCAA Indoor silver medal in the pentathlon earlier this season.
Pinnick is already the No. 2-ranked performer nationally in the heptathlon after totaling 5,791 points in her first multi-event outdoors in 2013 at the Jim Click Combined Events last week. She is also an accomplished 400-meter hurdler as the NCAA’s No. 12-ranked performer with a seasonal-best run of 57.89 in the event.
Setting the pace on the track for the Sun Devil men is junior middle distance runner Nick Happe, who is the nation’s third-ranked 1,500-meter runner this season with a time of 3 minutes, 42.78 seconds as he also had a strong performance at the Sun Angel Classic last weekend.
The Sun Devils are poised for strong finishes at the 2013 NCAA Division I Outdoor Championships after the women took seventh place and the men claimed 16th place at the NCAA Indoor Championships in March.
The Connecticut Huskies return to Baton Rouge this weekend for their third appearance at the “Battle on the Bayou” as they feature one of the premier men’s programs in the Northeast. They are coming off of a 2013 indoor season in which they won their eighth-straight New England Championship and swept team titles at the Big East Indoor Championships and IC4A Indoor Championships.
Leading the way for the Huskies this season are senior high jumper Noel James and junior sprinter Darnell Cummings as two of the nation’s top performers in their respective events.
James is a two-time Big East champion in the high jump with a career-best clearance of 7-3 in the event. He scored the silver medal at the Big East Indoor Championships as a senior this season while clearing a seasonal-best height of 7-0 ¼ in his specialty.
Cummings is the reigning Big East Indoor Champion in the 60-meter dash and silver medalist in the 200-meter dash while setting indoor PRs of 6.76 and 21.11, respectively, in the sprints. He competes outdoors with top times of 10.38 wind-aided and 10.59 wind-legal as the reigning Big East Outdoor silver medalist in the 100-meter dash.
Like both LSU and Arizona State, Mississippi State has proven itself as one of the nation’s premier combined programs during the 2013 season, which includes a pair of Top 20 finishes in the final team race for the NCAA Indoor Championships. That’s where the Bulldog men took 12th place and the Bulldog women tied for 20th place nationally to wrap up the 2013 indoor season.
Two Bulldogs were crowned NCAA Indoor Champions for their performance as senior D’Angelo Cherry won the men’s 60-meter title and sophomore Erica Bougard claimed the women’s pentathlon title as the nation’s best athletes in their respective events during the indoor season.
Bougard has continued her momentum outdoors as she is an NCAA title contender in the seven-event heptathlon as the NCAA’s No. 5-ranked performer in the event. She scored 5,649 points in her only heptathlon of the 2013 outdoor season to set a new personal record in the event. She trails the national leader by just over 200 points this spring.
While Cherry won the NCAA Indoor crown in the 60 meters, junior Marcus Jackson scored the silver medal in the high jump with a breakout performance as an emerging star at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
Jackson cleared a lifetime best of 7-6 en route to a runner-up finish nationally at the NCAA Indoor Championships, even besting Olympic silver medalist Erik Kynard of Kansas State at the national meet. Jackson is also a No. 2-ranked high jumper in the NCAA during the outdoor season while clearing a seasonal-best height of 7-5 ¼ since his breakout performance at the NCAA Indoor meet in March.
The Bulldogs are paced on the track this outdoor season by their 4x400-meter relay team that enters the weekend with the fifth-fastest time in the NCAA at 3:05.35 set at the Texas Relays two weeks ago. Setting their pace in the relay are seniors Nathan Arnett and Daundre Barnaby as each also ranks among the Top 15 performers nationally in their individual events. Barnaby is the NCAA’s No. 10-ranked 400-meter sprinter with his top time of the year at 46.32 and Arnett is the NCAA’s No. 12-ranked 400-meter hurdler with his seasonal-best time of 51.19 in the event.
Two other All-Americans as part of Mississippi State’s powerful 4x400-meter relay who return for the Bulldogs in 2013 are senior sprinters Tavaris Tate and O’Neal Wilder.
The Penn State Nittany Lions certainly pack a punch as they feature one of the deepest stables of middle distance runners in the NCAA Division I ranks with their performance to this point of the 2013 season.
The Penn State men tied for ninth place in the final team standings at the NCAA Indoor Championships just over one month ago on the strength of silver-medal-winning performances by senior Casimir Loxsom for the 800-meter run and their distance medley relay team comprised of four underclassmen in freshman Brannon Kidder, junior Brandon Bennett-Green, freshman Za’Von Watkins and sophomore Robby Creese.
Despite not running the 800 meters to this point of the outdoor season, Loxsom owns impressive PRs of 1:45.28 outdoors and 1:46.98 indoors in one of the more grueling events in track and field.
A former fourth-place finisher in the 800-meter final at the 2011 NCAA Outdoor Championships, Loxsom is a four-time All-American as a Nittany Lion as he is also a leader of one of the country’s top 4x400-meter relays during his tenure. That includes a second-place finish indoors and fourth-place finish outdoors at the NCAA Championships a year ago.
Kidder and Creese each ran the 800 meters for the first time outdoors at the Crimson Tide Invitational in Tuscaloosa, Ala., last weekend as Kidder emerged as the NCAA’s No. 2-ranked runner in the event this year with a time of 1:47.71 and Creese posted the NCAA’s No. 10-ranked performance outdoors this spring at 1:48.98. Kidder ran the 1,200-meter leadoff leg and Creese anchored with the mile leg as the Nittany Lions claimed its NCAA Indoor silver medal in the distance medley relay during the indoor season.
Penn State also features a strong group of throwers set to compete this weekend, led by the performance of sophomore Lauren Kenney as one of the NCAA’s elite javelin throwers.
Kenney fired the No. 2-ranked mark in the national rankings at the Crimson Tide Invitational last weekend with a seasonal-best throw of 176-11 in the meet held at the University of Alabama. Kenney is certainly a gold- medal contender at the NCAA level in 2013 as she trails Florida’s Marija Vucenovic on the NCAA list by less than five feet.
In addition, junior Melissa Kurzdorfer ranks No. 15 nationally in the women’s hammer throw with a best this season of 200-0 after claiming a 12th-place finish in the event at the NCAA Outdoor Championships last spring during her sophomore season in which she set a personal best of 207-10.