By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Things continue to heat up in Southeastern Conference track and field as we inch closer to meeting in Baton Rouge for the SEC Outdoor Championships in mid-May. This week features a lighter schedule of competition before the prestigious Penn and Drake Relays at the end of April, two of the showcase regular-season events in outdoor track and field.
Several of the conference’s top multi-event athletes will compete this week at the Mt. Sac Relays Multi-Events, which begin on Wednesday in Azusa, Calif. Arkansas’ Kevin Lazas, Gunnar Nixon and Terry Prentice are among those competing in a meet that has a rich history, as past winners have included Olympian Brian Clay and Dave Johnson, among many others.
A handful of league teams are playing host to meets at their home tracks this weekend as Auburn, Arkansas, Florida, LSU and Vanderbilt will all host competition at their home facilities.
Let’s get to a look at some of the top news going on around SEC Track and Field Week
Tennessee senior Ellen Wortham can seemingly do it all and do it at a high level. You might just call her “Miss Versatility.”
The Maryville, Tenn., native is this week’s SEC Women’s Runner of the Week and with good reason. Not only is Wortham a standout multi-event athlete, but she also excels in the individual events as well, as a hurdler, jumper and key member of Tennessee’s relays.
Despite all of Wortham’s accomplishments, it seems she can sometimes fly under the radar, but that was anything but the case this past Saturday on Senior Day at the Sea Ray relays in Knoxville, Tenn.
Wortham claimed the meet’s Tony Wilson Award for Women’s Running Events for the second consecutive year. She captured the women’s 400-meter hurdles, winning by three seconds in a season-best time of 55.93. That goes down as the top mark in the NCAA in that event so far this season and matched the meet record set by South Carolina’s Tiffany Ross-Williams in 2005.
Wortham also added a victory in the long jump, tying her career high with a leap of 19-11.75, and also helped her team’s 4x400-meter relay take home a win with a time of 3:39.37.
If you haven’t taken notice of Wortham’s accomplishments yet, you are certain to do so at the SEC Outdoor Championships this season. Already this year, she has earned a pair of All-America honors in running events and was All-SEC Second Team in the long jump indoors.
At this point in a football season, all the national talk would be about the Heisman watch. Well, it’s really not that different in the sport of track and field.
The U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association hands out a similar award each year. The Bowerman, which debuted in 2009, is the highest honor for a collegiate track and field athlete and it is presented to the most outstanding male and field athlete in the nation each year.
It is named for former Oregon coach and sport pioneer Bill Bowerman. If you have some time, the award is worth reading about at www.thebowerman.org.
Taking a look at the latest watch lists for The Bowerman, which are released by the awards committee, it’s no surprise that the SEC is heavily represented among the field.
On the latest men’s watch list, the SEC featured four of the 10 athletes on the prestigious list. Florida’s Jeff Demps and Tony McQuay, Arkansas’ Andrew Irwin and Ole Miss’ Ricky Robertson are all featured on the men’s watch list. In addition, Georgia’s Torrin Lawrence and Arkansas’ Nixon are “also receiving mention” on that list.
On the latest women’s watch list, LSU’s sensational sprinter Kimberlyn Duncan and Arkansas’ dominant pole vaulter Tina Sutej are two of the 10 athletes to watch. LSU’s Semoy Hackett is “also receiving mention.”
I will keep you updated on the progress of this award, but looking ahead, when the field is narrowed to three finalists this summer, there is a fan voting period that is an element of deciding a winner and something SEC track and field fans definitely will want to get involved in.
Not much changed in this week’s USTFCCCA Top-25 rankings, but expect to see somewhat of a shakeup next week.
Up to this point of the outdoor season, the computer rankings included preseason marks in combination with current-season data to compile team scores. Starting next week, only marks from the 2012 outdoor season will be considered.
What does this mean for the SEC? Well, there may be a bit of a drop off in the rankings – temporarily. SEC teams are largely known for peaking at the right time, which may be a reason for the conference’s great success at the national level.
While there has been great success and some standout performances already this season, SEC athletes will show what they are truly capable of at the SEC Outdoor Championships in May. Those will be times and marks that will truly amaze.
They are a good guide, but I wouldn’t put too much stock in the rankings until after the SEC Outdoor Championships when each league team has performed at its peak. The rankings that come out immediately following the conference championship will give you a better understanding of where you can expect your favorite team to finish at the national championships.