June 8, 2011 9:02:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- It''s been a season of setbacks and diminished buzz for the Mississippi State men''s track team.
The Bulldogs enter the 2011 NCAA Outdoor Championships today in Des Moines, Iowa, unranked after earning a top 10 ranking earlier this season. They are ranked in just two events -- the 4x400 meter relay and high jump.
It''s a different scenario than last year''s trip to nationals, which higlighted a season where the Bulldogs earned national attention with blockbuster wins at Penn Relays and Texas Relays. Tavaris Tate and Emanuel Mayers earned all-American honors in the 400 meter and 400-meter hurdles, respectively. Both runners starred on the 4x400 team that finished second.
This season, Tate injured his hamstring during the indoor and outdoor seasons, while Mayers endured foot surgery.
Tate, a highly-touted sophomore, enters tomorrow''s 400-meter semifinals tied for 22nd in the nation -- with teammate James Harris -- his time of 46.19 nearly seven-tenths of a second off the finish which saw him finish fifth nationally in 2010.
It''s far cry from where coach Steve Dudley expected his team to be heading into Des Moines.
"If you asked me that question at the beginning of the year when we had all our bullets, I''d say yeah, we should be in the top 10," Dudley said. "We''ve had some injuries, we knew we were going to redshirt some guys. If top 10 is on our finger tips, we''re gonna go get it. We''ve got some bullets, but if you look at where we''re ranked, we''re not even ranked in the top 25.
"I think now, you start thinking about top 10, you get ahead of yourself and that''s what we hope everyone else is doing. We''ve got to concentrate on executing each day at its best."
Tate is healthy after competing at NCAA regionals without any hamstring issues. But his level of fitness heading into nationals is unknown. After all, he missed training time in the fall and again in the spring because of a hamstring sprain.
"It shouldn''t be an issue," Dudley said. "In the semis, everybody''s good and everybody''s gonna be coming down the home stretch together. We hope he got enough in during the fall and January and February to get into finals."
The performance of Harris, a freshman, could determine whether MSU earned a top 20 finish. He earned indoor all-American status in the high jump, will compete in the 4x100, 4x400, open 400 and the high jump.
Harris is ranked fifth in the high jump at 2.23 meters. He will team with O''Neal Wilder, Daundre Barnaby and Tate on the 4x400, which is ranked fourth at 3 minutes, 3.25 seconds, nearly three seconds behind top-ranked Texas A&M. The Aggies beat MSU last year in a down-to-the-wire finish.
Harris has handled the same workload for much of the season, and up to this point, Dudley hasn''t seen the Alabama native have a "freshman" moment.
"He''s a young and strong kid, mentally and physically," Dudley said. "He has a lot of confidence in himself and cares about anybody that''s around him. A person like that, workload doesn''t bother him, in track and field or in the real world. It''s fantastic as a coach to watch an individual like that."
MSU women continuing breakout season
In a typical season, Mississippi State''s women''s track team sends two or three athletes to nationals.
The 2011 season, though, has been anything but typical.
The Lady Bulldogs will have seven athletes compete in Des Moines beginning today, led by 400 runner Jody Ann Muir, who placed finish last season at nationals.
Muir will also run a leg on the 4x400 relay, joined by Racquel Farquharson, Brittany Covington and Taneisha Baker.
Richesa McCaleb and Jessica Merriweather will compete in the 100 meters and high jump, respectively, while Haley Greenwell is running in the 10,000 meters.
Last season, the Lady Bulldogs didn''t have a women''s high jumper or women''s 10k runner qualify for regionals.
"Recruiting efforts, you get more scholarships, maybe four or five more, so you''ve got the resources and you just got to coach them," Dudley said. "We''ve coached them hard, and they''ve trained real hard. We want to be a team that''s consistently in the top 20 just like the men. It''s got to start at some point, and I keep telling the kids, lets not wait to do it, so next year won''t be a starting point."
Muir is ranked 10th in the 400 meters, and, based on rankings, is the only Lady Bulldog who figures to place at nationals. But that scenario has been the case all season, especially at regionals, Dudley said.
"In Indiana, we had a lot of girls who, based on rankings, had no chance of getting here," Dudley said. "If we have another meet like we had in Indiana, then the rankings won''t mean a thing. We''ve still got to run the races."