By Special Contributor Don Garrett
West Texas A&M
Eastern New Mexico
The LSC track meet is upon us – it will take place this coming Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The multis (men’s decathlon and women’s heptathlon) will be the only events on Friday, with all other events picking up on Saturday – for 2 solid days of track and field on Saturday and Sunday. In the past, the 10,000 meter was contested on the first night, but this year, it will be the last event on Saturday night – I am not sure why there was a change in schedule for that event.
To me, the biggest stories of the LSC track season are: the huge improvement of the Angelo men’s team this year; an absolutely astounding improvement for TAMU-Kingsville on both the men’s and women’s side; West Texas A&M building a very solid program in just 2 years with a track program (in fact, this will be first year that the WT women compete at conference); and the improvement of the ENMU men over past seasons. The parity of the LSC in track and field may well be at an all-time high, particularly on the men’s side.
One other big difference at the LSC meet this year – with 7 teams now competing at the championship meet, there will be 8 places awarded in every event. That means more kids will get the chance to score at the meet and you will not see teams scoring less than 10 points at the meet. Because of the parity of the conference, however, you will not see any one team scoring some gosh-awful number of points.
It seems after winning 18 straight (or is it 19 straight now?) men’s championships, ACU would certainly be the favorite. However, after looking at the performance list and trying to make best guesses of who will be entered, I have to think that Angelo comes in as the favorite for this meet. I don’t expect to see ACU just roll over and play dead, they will load up all of their key athletes with extra events (expect to see Amos Sang to run 3-4 distance events, Tyler Fleet to throw in 3-4 weight events, their jumpers to run the sprints, etc), but I don’t know with the depth of talent in the conference this year if this will really bring a lot of extra points to ACU. It certainly looks to me that Tarleton should be viewed as the strong favorite for the #3 spot, with WT and TAMU-K close behind. Unlike past years, there will not a huge dropoff in points to the #6 and #7 teams – ENMU and TAMU-C.
Angelo State – should score around 200-210 points in the meet. The Rams are very strong in the sprints, particularly in the 200-400. Good depth in every area of the meet, except for possibly the 1500-5K. There is a chance that they could score points in every single event of the meet and they will pile up big points in the 200, 400, 400 hurdles, vault and javelin. There are not a lot of superstars (although James Howell could certainly be called a superstar) on this team, but there many good, solid competitors that should overwhelm the other LSC teams.
ACU – in the past, ACU has bludgeoned teams at the conference with quality AND depth. The depth factor this year is reduced significantly. This will probably be fewest number of athletes that ACU has brought to the conference meet in 20 years. There is still some serious quality – kids ranked in the top 5 in their event in D-II (Amos Sang, Ramon Sparks, Tyler Fleet, Desmond Jackson, Landon Ehlers, Aaron Cantrell, James Hardin), but there is a bigger dropoff from those athletes than in the past. And, ACU is redshirting 2 former national champs – Andrew McDowell, arguably the best 110 hurdler in D-II and Nick Jones, the 2-time national discus champ. With those 2 possibly the Wildcats could make up that gap, but I think they will score somewhere around 170-180 points and fall short of the Rams by about 20-25 points.
Tarleton State – the Texans should score somewhere in the 130-140 range and finish a solid 3rd. They have excellent depth in the distance races and should score big in the 800-1500-5K-10K (last year’s track athlete of the year Jared McNeil) and steeple - Coach Pat Ponder has a long reputation of producing distance runners. Their weight thrower are also good, particularly in the SP-DT. Only a real deficiency in the jumps, particularly in the LJ-TJ- PV hurts Tarleton this year and keeps them from challenging for the title. If one of their key kids, like Garrett Thomas should step up and score well in their “off” event – Garrett is strong in the 110 hurdles, but weak in the 400 hurdles – then, Tarleton could make the race for 2nd place even more interesting.
The race for 4th place is virtually a dead heat between WT and TAMU-K, I think they will both score around 85-95 points. West Texas A&M is very weak in the sprints, which surprises me because they have some football/track guys with some wheels, but they have a legit shot at scoring in virtually every other event in the meet. They have built a capable distance corps very quickly. They also have some young weight throwers who are up-and-comers on the conference level. They even have a returning conference champ in Gage Meyer, their high jumper, who is certainly capable of defending his title. Coach Flowers has assembled a very competitive team at WT in only 2 years and should be lauded for his effort. Speaking of assembling a team in only 2 years, Coach Dall at Texas A&M-Kingsville, has reconstructed a team that had fallen on hard times and has turned it into a conference contender. Kingsville has good field event depth (particularly in the LJ-TJ) and excellent relays. The Hoggies must be pleased to see that most of their talent is young – freshmen Sergio Rios (400H), Trent Hesseltine (HJ), C.J. Griggs (LJ/TJ), Isaiah Glover (LJ, TJ). There is still a long ways to go for the Javelinas in finding some good kids on the track, they don’t have many contenders in the any of the running events, except possibly the 100, 200, and 400 hurdles. But, their field event strength should make them highly competitive this year and even conference contenders as early as 2011.
Eastern New Mexico has had some years in the past when they scored less than 10 points at conference and most of that was in the javelin. This year, the Greyhounds are much, much improved and could score in the 60-70 point range, a drastic improvement over just 2 years ago. They should still score well in the javelin, but now they have sprinters, quartermilers, distance runners (particularly the 800), jumpers and weight throwers who should score in the meet. Their sprint relay should be very competitive – a big change from the past. And, they have some decathletes who should be in the thick of things. Coach Boll has done an excellent job improving this team and most of his best kids are young – bodes well for 2011 and beyond.
Texas A&M – Commerce did not look good on paper to begin the season. However, some of their redshirt distance kids are running well and they have acquired some sprint depth. Only an almost total lack of competitors in the field events will prevent Commerce from putting up much of fight for 6th place. Still, the 40-50 points they should score will actually be far more than I thought possible earlier this year. One ominous sign for the future – their good distance runners are mostly seniors, they will need to do some big-time recruiting to put together a competitive team for 2011. However, their new coach had success at the D-III level in Wisconsin and with a full year to recruit, he may be able to bring in some suitable reinforcements.
I am a long-time ACU track fan, but I think that this conference track meet on the men’s side will be much more entertaining for the fan. There is little drama when the first place team scores as many points as the other teams combined, as has happened sometimes in the past with ACU. A weakened ACU team, plus improvement on the part of almost every other LSC team will make this meet much more fun. I am also impressed with the overall depth of the competitors this year. In some events, the top 8 are all potential national qualifiers and in virtually every event, the top 8-10 athletes are serious contenders for the conference title.
Speaking of the winning team scoring as many points as every other team combined, Angelo State came very close to doing that last year on the women’s side. That Rambelle team of 2009 may have well been the best women’s team ever assembled in the LSC. Most of that team is back in 2010, BUT there is one big difference, the graduation of the throwing tandem of Adree Lakey and Culley Jo Dawson. Angelo literally lost over 70 points from their conference total with their graduation! Angelo still has the best athlete in D-II, male or female, in Aisha Adams. Last year, Aisha scored over 50 points BY HERSELF at the meet and I expect no less from her this year. But, ACU looks to be stronger than 2009. WTAMU has a good first year team that will eat up some points, Tarleton looks down a bit, but TAMU-K has improved drastically from 2009. Unfortunately for ENMU, the Zias have not been able to make the same improvement that has been shown by their men’s team and they will not have much of an impact on the conference race this year.
Angelo State – the Rambelles start with Aisha Adams, who is quite possibly the greatest female athlete in LSC history. In fact, she may be the greatest ATHLETE in LSC history. I don’t know that I have ever seen one athlete be so dominant in so many things at the national level. I don’t believe Aisha will compete in the heptathlon at conference, because ASU needs her dominating the individual events as she did last year. Angelo also has a superb sprinter in Celethia Byrd; an excellent distance runner in Brittney Heath; another fine hurdler/heptathlete in Chrystal Ruiz; and another outstanding multi athlete in Adria Nussey (who came to ASU from tiny San Angelo Cornerstone Christian HS). ASU will still win the conference handily with around 275-285 points, but they won’t lap the field like they did last year in that utterly dominant effort.
ACU looked to be in a steep decline in 2009, but they have been able to get some improved performances from some of their athletes, plus have gotten back some key redshirts and this team looks stronger in 2010. ACU still has the capability to score in every single event at conference. They got some international help from France with newcomers Anais Belledant and Chloe Susset in the distance races. (For you long-time LSC track fans, you will be surprised to see that ACU will not have any distance runners from Africa on the women’s side in 2010). ACU also has great strength in the weight throwers with the duo of Paige Newby and Jessica Sloss, plus the 2-time D-II national javelin champ in Linda Brivule. The only drawback to Brivule is that she only throws the javelin, the most points she can score at conference is 10. This ACU team should score somewhere around 200-210, still around 70-80 points behind Angelo, but not that dreadful 150 point margin of 2009.
The next three teams, Tarleton, West Texas, and TAMU-K, should all score in the 75-95 point range, but if I had to pick a favorite for 3rd place, I will pick West Texas. WT has instantly become a conference contender, with team composed almost entirely by freshman/sophomores. They already have conference-competitive sprinters, distance runners, hurdlers, vaulters and jumpers. They are a little weak in the throws, but they could even score some points there. Literally, there is only about 2-3 events where WT won’t score at all, excellent balance for a team that is only 2 years old. Solid relays round out a team that has made great strides (pun intended) in a very short time. Tarleton State, on the other hand appears to be off a bit this year. They look to have good depth in the sprints, but their distance depth has dropped significantly this year. They are solid in the hurdles and in the throws, where they should score big in the shot put. However, just like the men they are significantly off in the jumps this year. I think I will still pick them 4th overall, because I think some of their distance runners may surprise just a bit, but they will not have that 3rd place spot all to themselves as in past years. And, the biggest surprise this year in this fight for 3rd is the huge improvement of the Javelinas of TAMU-Kingsville. They are dramatically better than any time in the past few years! Excellent depth in the distance races and in the jumps/vault could actually propel them to 3rd place before it is all over. It must be gratifying to TAMU-K that this team has seen the emergence of some good young talent (Samantha Alvarez in the HJ, for example), but also has seen some “old hands” like Diana Zarate (hurdles) and Erica Alvarado (distances) really step up their game and become serious conference contenders.
There is still a rather wide gap between this 2nd tier of teams and the bottom tier of TAMU-Commerce and Eastern New Mexico. Both of them will probably score around 20-30 points. TAMU-Commerce should score most of its points in the distance races (Kate Donovan) and the javelin (Sunny Henderson). Commerce also has profited from 2 good transfers – Charnita Hollands in the sprints and Shagayla Petty in the hurdles. These two have also bolstered the relays, which are more competitive than in years past. Eastern New Mexico will rely on their distance runners, particularly Nicki Reid, and their weight throwers like Kassie Daugherty (from Bridgeport, TX) to score most of their points. This team needs a really good recruiting class, like their men had in 2009, to become more conference competitive.
Don’t forget that a good Incarnate Word team joins the fray on both the men’s and women’s side in 2011. This year’s conference meet the women’s side will follow past years fairly closely, with Angelo and ACU being the class of the conference. However, with improving teams at WT and Kingsville, plus a Tarleton team that will no doubt bounce back in 2011, the conference meet next year could have 6 teams in serious contention and that parity will be good for the LSC and for college track in Texas.