February 12, 2010 10:06:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Building on last year''s success, Al Schmidt and the Mississippi State track teams have seen immediate results on the recruiting trail.
MSU''s men added another top-notch sprinter this week with the signing of Alabama prep sprinter James Harris.
Harris won the open 400-meter event at the 2009 Junior Olympics and chose MSU over Texas A&M and LSU.
MSU also added seven distance runners to the fold Wednesday, including Alabama Gatorade Cross Country Athlete of the Year Nathan Lewis, who won three state titles in his prep career.
The highlight, however, is the 6-foot-5 Harris. He has a 6-10 high jump and has experience in the 200 and 400, but, more importantly, he adds to the Bulldogs'' vaunted sprint group with Starkville native Tavaris Tate, Daundre Barnaby, Dwight Mullings, and D''Angelo Cherry.
"I think the atmosphere of Mississippi State -- a world class university -- we have a national class track team that kids want to be a part of," Schmidt said. "With (Harris), we''ve signed three of the top 10 400 runners over the last couple of years. James Harris I think that Barnaby and Tate being here had a lot to do with it. Coach (Steve) Dudley did a great job recruiting him."
The Lady Bulldogs received welcome news this week, too, as Alabama cross country runner Mary Katherine Huston signed a National Letter of Intent, along with fellow Alabama native Krishayle Evans and New Hope High School 100-meter standout Kelli Petty.
"Katie is the gem so far," Schmidt said. "We''ve got some other girls we''re going to sign who are international class, and that''ll happen soon. Katie has the potential to be the best distance runner in the Southeast. We''ve got 15 girls on the squad, and we needed someone to be a penetrator from the beginning of the race. She definitely gives us that."
While it''s been a big week by the fax machine for Schmidt and his two squads, this weekend''s Tyson Invitational at Fayetteville, Ark., has the team''s current athletes looking to measure up against top-notch competition.
Schmidt believves this is the year the men''s team will come away with a trophy after having continually fielding a top-25 squad. He is anxious to see Tate and Cherry, who holds the national junior indoor record in the 60-meter sprint (6.52), compete against most of the teams in the Southeastern Conference and some that will be contenders at the national championships.
"Tavaris Tate, who is unbeaten now, he will have a chance to line up against I think Baylor, whose got three of the top-10 400-meter guys in the country," Schmidt said. "D''Angelo is one of the fastest 60- and 100-meter guys in the country, and he''s getting ready for U.S. National trials to go to the championships in March. He''s looking to be in the 6.50 in the 60."
The goal this weekend for the Lady Bulldogs will be to get their top performers qualified for the indoor championships.
Wendy Copeland is coming off a third-place finish in the long jump Jan. 30 at the Indiana Relays, while Crystal Wilson is coming off a 200-meter win and a runner-up finish in the 400 in Bloomington, Ind.
"Wilson has turned into an SEC-class 400 runner," Schmidt said. "This weekend is big because nine SEC schools and some Big 12 schools will be competing."
Macdonald lauds offseason progress
Hoping to build off a rare winning season, the women''s soccer team opened spring drills this week hoping to find the cure for its scoring woes.
Such was the case heading into last year, too, as SEC opponents have pitched 11 clean sheets against Neil Macdonald''s squad the past two seasons.
Playmaking in the final third is crucial if the Bulldogs plan to book a place in the SEC tournament, which hasn''t happened in more than five years. The Bulldogs had a minus-eight goal differential last season. Forward Kat Walsh had a team-high eight goals last season
"We''re really trying to improve certain areas of our play, particularly the front three working on trying to get in behind teams and creating more goal-scoring opportunities," Macdonald said. "What we do in the final third will define us next fall. Can we become a team that gets in behind a little bit more often? Certainly from reviewing tape in the fall, opportunities and shots were coming from the top of the box against hitting the byline and getting balls crossed into the box. That''s an area we''re looking at."
Macdonald and the Bulldogs found cover for goalkeeper Skylar Rosson, who takes over full-time for graduated stopper Taryn Holland, by signing Abby Risner and Lisa Monteith. The Bulldogs also made a splash by adding Memphis striker Elisabeth Sullivan.
Macdonald is happy with his 2010 signings (six in all), but he is more concerned with developing the large freshman class he signed last season. Forward Rachel Wannek scored four goals last season and Mexico Under-20 International Monica Alvarado made a splash in midfield.
He said he''s focused on the team increasing its training regimen during the offseason.
"These girl are super players with a lot of potential, and over the next three months we need to make sure we get them reaching that potential," Macdonald said. "That''s why I talk about these training habits; I felt last year we struggled physically, especially in the SEC. I think that the weight training program and offseason workouts are going to be key for us."
MSU volleyball having strong offseason
After winning four of their last five home games, the volleyball team is preparing for a postseason push in 2010.
Losing senior hitter Ioana Demian and setter Dorey Gray, the Bulldogs signed three players this spring to go with a strong returning class.
Standouts Ashley Newsome, Caitlin Rance, Kayla Woodard, and Faith Steinwedell return after closing 2009 in fine fashion, but coach Jenny Hazelwood thinks there is plenty to improve.
"Our goal was for them to be training at their highest potential level every day," Hazelwood said. "They are getting stronger and they are pushing as hard as they can. They''re learning how to not hold back -- and that''s a mind-set. Getting a championship mentality has to start there. We weren''t really close to the level we needed to be last year, and not for a lack of talent or ability or girls not working hard, but the system just wasn''t in place for what I felt worked. This offseason has made a big difference, and the girls are jumping higher, hitting harder, and pushing themselves hard."
Hazelwood and assistant coach Lindi Bankowski are set to hit the recruiting trail this weekend, but this year''s recruiting crop has the second-year coach excited about the competition for spots in the lineup.
The Bulldogs signed libero Noelle Belisario, outside hitter Danielle McRee, and setter Paris Perret.
"As much as I''ve talked about how great these new girls are, the players we already have are fighting like crazy to be the best they can be," Hazelwood said, "so it''s going to have the desired effect; we''re going to be outstanding whether it''s freshmen on the court or a mix of veterans."
Hazelwood said middle hitter/blocker Mandy Mellencamp is progressing well through her rehabilitation from surgery to repair an anterior cruciate ligament last fall.
1. Starkville beats Callaway; Kemper County edges Noxubee County HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
2. No. 1 Alabama loses Harris in shutout of Kent State COLLEGE SPORTS
3. Kemper County takes it to Noxubee County in second half HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
4. Non-conference schedule has right mix for MSU women LOCAL COLUMNS
5. Winona Christian's ground game edges Oak Hill Academy's passing game HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS