March 30, 2010 9:25:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State''s track teams will try to stand out Wednesday when they invade Austin, Texas, for the 83rd Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays.
More than 5,000 high school and college track and field athletes will compete in the nation''s second-largest track meet, which is also one of its most storied events.
The meet will provide MSU''s relay teams an opportunity to take the first step in proving why they''ll be forces at nationals.
MSU''s men won the 4x400-meter relay and 4x200 relay last weekend at the Alabama Relays. MSU''s women took second in the 4x400 and third in the 4x100, but coach Al Schmidt said he held back on both sides in preparation for the Texas Relays, which gives MSU just two days to rest before beginning competition.
Dwight Mullings didn''t run the 4x400, though the combination of O''Neal Wilder, Emanuel Mayers, Daundre Barnaby, and Tavaris Tate easily won the event.
In the 4x100, Schmidt said MSU''s men ran an "A-minus" lineup, which produced a second-place finish with Tate, Mullings, Kendall May, and D''Angelo Cherry.
"Texas is a much tougher schedule, so we had to make sure (Mullings) opened up that 400 meters and ran that 4x4," Schmidt said. "We had other runners that needed work, too.
"Tavaris doesn''t want to come off anything. We held him back the first 200 meters and had him run relaxed early. It isn''t anybody''s normal way of running, but we had to take steps here and there to make sure we were full strength for Texas."
Mullings and Tate will compete in three events Saturday, putting added emphasis on the rest the Bulldogs took last weekend.
Schmidt compared the level of competition at the Texas Relays to the Penn Relays, and said his athletes will "have to go to the well like it''s nationals." He expects the best from Baylor, Texas A&M, and USC, so comparing the Texas Relays to nationals is reasonable.
The return of Wilder, who dropped football to return to the track, has boosted MSU''s relay squads.
Wilder was a bronze medal winner in the 400 at the IAAF World Junior National Championship and a member of the World Junior 4x400 meter relay Gold medal team. He was the No. 2 ranked world junior in the 400 at the end of the 2008 season.
The sophomore also had to work his way back from a knee injury, but Schmidt said Wilder''s fitness is about 85 percent.
"He''s real close to getting back to where he was his freshman year," Schmidt said. "He''s definitely back nationally, and he''ll be back internationally by nationals. He''s dropped about 15 pounds and is having people scared he''s back."
With all the MSU track talk surrounding the men''s sprint teams and the record-setters, MSU''s women get lost in the shuffle, Schmidt said.
With what he feels is a top-20 team, Schmidt is keen to see Laquinta Aaron, Wendy Copeland, and Chrystal Wilson display national-level form.
Schmidt admits MSU''s women don''t have the same depth as MSU''s men, but Aaron''s top-four ranking in the hurdles, Copeland''s dominance in the long jump, and Chloe Phillips'' emergence in the open mile has Schmidt convinced the group will make good on his belief of a top-20 finish by nationals.
"The good thing about going from indoor to outdoor is we''re one track team now," Schmidt said. "When our women see our men attack, they attack as well. I think the women are going to perform similarly at Texas as they did at Alabama. In the relays, we can be in the top three of four. Wendy, as a long jumper, is capable of winning anytime out.
"Texas, Penn, SEC, and nationals -- this is the first leg of that. It''s the week to show our jersey."
NOTES: Wilson injured her hamstring Saturday and Schmidt said he''s unsure if she''ll be able to run multiple events. However, Schmidt feels she''ll be ready to run her leg on the 4x400. ... Documents have been signed for MSU''s $1.4 million track project, and pre-construction meetings will be held in the next seven days, Schmidt said.