Editor’s Note: “In The Blocks” will appear each Thursday on the SEC Digital Network during the collegiate track and field season.
By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Things are starting to heat up in the Southeastern Conference track and field world and it’s no surprise given the timing and, of course, the talent in this league.
Last weekend was when you really began to see some of those nation-leading performances that will be on full display at the 2013 SEC Indoor Track and Field Championships that are slated for Feb. 22-24 in Fayetteville, Ark. Teams had gotten a couple of weeks of competition under their belts and, on top of that, there were some really great meets across the country last weekend.
Speaking of Fayetteville, Ark., I will give you a look later in this column about a site visit I traveled on to the Randal Tyson Track Center this past weekend in preparation for the upcoming conference meet.
For the second week in a row, a nation-leading 14 SEC track and field programs – seven men’s and seven women’s – are ranked among the top-25 nationally, according to the latest poll from the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.
Let’s dive into some of the happenings around SEC track and field.
Dan Waters is now in his second year as the head coach of the University of Alabama track and field and cross country programs. He is the first-ever head coach of the combined men’s and women’s program in Tuscaloosa and has been charged with uniting and revitalizing the Crimson Tide.
Waters’ program may not receive many accolades for the performances that his athletes have accomplished so far this season but make no mistake, there are plenty of indications that the Alabama track and field program is on the rise.
Speaking on a UA athletics department produced show called the Crimson Tide Connection, Waters noted that his combined program has featured 57 student-athletes who are new to his program this season. Very few programs nationally who are working to compete at the highest level feature anywhere near that many newcomers.
That youth has caused Waters and his coaching staff to spend a lot of time teaching the sport to his student-athletes, but the second-year coach has been pleased with how receptive they have been to the instruction.
“We’re teaching kids about SEC track and field and what it takes to be competitive at this level,” Waters said on the show. “The great thing is, all of the kids have been adapting and eager to learn and trying to do the things we’ve been asking them to do in practice.”
In the current state of the Alabama program, Waters’ athletes can’t afford to act like freshmen. They must be ready to put their considerable talents on display immediately.
That’s why Waters is no longer referring to his athletes as rookies.
“We had a meeting after the first meet and we’re no longer calling our athletes freshmen anymore,” he said. “They’re just people that are in their second competition now. We’re asking those new people to be veterans and they’ve stepped up to the challenge.”
There is little doubt that the future is bright for the Alabama track and field programs.
In my two years at the SEC, we’ve never had a competition for the SEC Women’s Field Athlete of the Week honors as fierce as the one this week.
Two world-class athletes, in their respective events, turned in performances that ranked among the best in collegiate history. And – how about this? – they both took place at the same meet: the highly competitive Razorback Team Invitational.
The first athlete of whom I speak is Arkansas multi-event athlete Makeba Alcide, who earned the SEC’s weekly honor and also was named the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association National Women’s Athlete of the Week.
Alcide became the No. 3 collegiate performer in the pentathlon, totaling a school-record and NCAA-leading score of 4,464 points in the five-event competition. She totaled four lifetime personal bests and, in the process, set the school record in the high jump. Alcide broke the national record for her home country of St. Lucia and added more than 300 points to her previous personal-best total.
The second remarkable field performer this past weekend was Georgia pole vaulter Morgann Leleux. An impressive athlete as just a sophomore, Leleux turned in the No. 6 pole vault in collegiate history with a mark of 14-9. She came within a half inch of equaling Georgia’s school record and moved herself into first place on the NCAA performance list for the pole vault. The scary thing about Leleux is that, having done all this, she still hasn’t reached her potential. The next two-plus seasons should be fun to watch as she makes her quest to become the best all-time collegiate pole vaulter.
As always with my columns, I try to give you some insight into the inner workings of the SEC office and the behind-the-scenes events that go on behind the championships. Last week, Tre Stallings, the SEC’s Assistant Director of Championships, and I ventured to Fayetteville for a site visit at the Randal Tyson Track Center.
Generally, we try to travel to the site of an upcoming championship event to see how a meet works at that event and to get a lay of the land. Another key reason for the visit is to evaluate the facility for the signage package that will be produced featuring the SEC logo and its various marks. Each venue has unique characteristics and our goal is to work with our signage company to develop a package of championship banners and logos that will accent the particular site.
We met with Roy Jacobson, the event manager at the University of Arkansas, who will be serving as the championship meet director, to go over various items related to the championship. Roy served as a good tour guide for us and showed us the many ways in which Arkansas is preparing to put on a first-class championship.
It’s a busy time for the folks at the University of Arkansas, who will turn around two weeks later and play host to the NCAA Indoor Championships at Randal Tyson Track Center.
If the performances of this past weekend are any indication, it’s going to be a fun remainder of the SEC indoor track and field season.
Until next time.