By BRAD KEITH
Sports Editor, Stephenville Empire Tribune
NCAA Division II's No. 1 sprint relay team, top two-event sprinter, strongest discus thrower and best woman's triple jumper are among the athletes converging on Stephenville this weekend as Tarleton State hosts the 2011 Lone Star Conference Track & Field Championships at Memorial Stadium and on the surface of Oscar Frazier Track.
"Some of the very best pure athletes anywhere in the nation in Division II are going to be here," said Tarleton State head track and field and cross country coach Pat Ponder. "This is a special opportunity for us to bring some the country's most talented athletes to Stephenville. We'll only get to do this once every eight years, so it's an exciting weekend."
Ponder hates that track and field is only mentioned in the same breath as mainstream sports once every four years.
"It seems like most people only get excited about track and field when the Olympics come around every four years," he said. "Track and field is the original sport, dating back to 776 BC. Its pure in nature, with athletes competing against the clock and opponents, but mostly against themselves."
The heptathlon and decathlon begin Friday and conclude Saturday before a slew of field events and running preliminaries. The remaining field events and running finals will be held on Sunday (complete schedule available at www.tarletonsports.com/custompages/TFChamps/index.html).
"The Lone Star Confrence is one of the toughest, if not the toughest, conferences in the nation when it comes to track and field," Ponder said. "There will be plenty of national qualifiers making their way through Stephenville to showcase their talent."
Some of that talent will be running for Ponder's Texans and TexAnns.
Tarleton is yet to post an automatic qualifying mark this season, but five individuals and one relay team have posted provisional marks. If there are not enough automatic qualifiers to fill an event at nationals, provisional qualifiers are added to the field in order of rank.
Freshman sprinter Derekia Coleman has posted provisional marks in two events, including a school record in one. The freshman from Fairfield is the fastest woman ever to run the 200 meter dash for Tarleton with a best time of 24.09 seconds. She is currently ranked 12 in the nation in the 200 and is tied for 10th in the 100 at 11.81.
Coleman enters the conference meet as the LSC's highest-ranked woman in the 200. She is tied with Incanate Word's Elodie Barre' in the 100.
Provisional qualifier Elizabeth Dominguez of the TexAnns is ranked 25th nationally in the discus with a best throw of 145-0. Teammate Leslie Jordan has posted a provisional mark in the shot put, where she is ranked 30th at 44-4. Jordan will compete in all four throwing events - discus, shot put, hammer and javelin - this weekend, Ponder says.
On the men's side, the 4x400 relay team of Jordan Larkin, Austin Griffin, Chase Graf and John Morin has provisionally qualified and is ranked 30th at 3:15.0. Jeff Smith is ranked 30th in the 400 hurdles at 53.60. Hayden Eubanks has PQ'd in the discus with a 25th ranked throw of 167-6.
Ponder believes his athletes all have it in them to improve their best marks this weekend.
"We have a lot of young talent, and that youth can go one of two ways," Ponder said. "If they go out and look like freshmen running scared, they won't improve. But if they go out and run like they just don't know any better and they aren't intimidated by the athletes from the other teams, we'll put up some good marks and times and see some personal records fall.
"We'll find out how mentally strong we are this weekend," he added. "It takes a ton of mental strength to compete against yourself, and especially against some of the athletes who will be here this weekend."
Several athletes in action this weekend have already automatically qualified for the NCAA Division II nationals.
Abilene Christian's Desmond Jackson is second nationally in the 100 at 10.22, and second in the 200 at 20.79. He will be pushed in the 200 by A&M-Kingsville's Jonathan Woodson, who is third at 20.88.
Jackson also runs the second leg of ACU's 4x100 relay, which has the nation's best time of 39.80. A&M Kingsville is tied for fourth nationally in that event at 39.98.
Also on the men's side, ACU's Nick Jones is No. 1 in the disucs at 195-4, more than eight feet farther than the second best throw in the nation. Jones is also second in the shot put at 60-8.5.
The discus is one of two events that will include three of the nation's top six this weekend. West Texas A&M's Servell Dandridge is fifth at 179-8, while Angelo State's Wade Goode is sixth at 178-5.
The triple jump will also have three of the nation's best six in ACU's Ramon Sparks (3rd, 52-5.25) and Timothy Jones (5th, 51-0.25) and Angelo's Mark Slone (6th, 50-4.5).
The best in the nation in the long distance races is ACU's Amos Sang. He is first in the 10,000 meter at 28:20.35 and second in the 5,000 at 13:42.88.
On the women's side, ACU triple jumper Amanda Ouedraogo is tops in the country at 42-5.5, while teammate Paige Newby is third in the discus at 170-9.
A&M-Commerce's LaShara Jefferson is fifth at the discus at 158-2, giving LSC women three automatic qualifiers entering the weekend.