May 11, 2010 10:23:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- LaQuinta Aaron smiles when asked if Mississippi State''s men''s track team success has overshadowed the progress made by MSU''s women.
The All-Southeastern Conference hurdler and heptathlete enters this week''s SEC Championships hoping to achieve the same kind of notoriety.
From what she has seen the past year, MSU''s women should tally more than the 42 points they earned last year in an 11th-place finish at the conference meet.
"The guys worked their butts off to get where they are, so if they get all the attention it''s deserved," Aaron said Monday. "At the same time, I like what our team is doing. We''re doing a lot better than what we did last year, and even though sometimes it''s frustrating because you''re working so hard to get there, it''s like a breath of fresh air when you do."
Part of Aaron''s frustration has been the 100-meter hurdles, where she is 11th in the league with a personal-best time of 13.75 seconds.
Her work on MSU''s 4x400 relay team has helped her and teammates Crystal Wilson, Taneisha Baker, and Jody-Ann Muir improve six seconds from the beginning of the season.
At the Jesse Owens Track Classic on May 1, the team set a new school record with a time of 3 minutes, 37.24 seconds -- a three-second improvement from its time at the Penn Relays.
"At the Jesse Owens, we really just had to give our all because we felt like it was our last chance to get the time we wanted," Aaron said. "We really wanted that before going into SECs. It takes the doubt out because if there was any, we know we can run that time we need to."
The record is the seventh-best time in the league this season, but MSU is banking on a solid heptathlon from Aaron, who is ranked fifth in the SEC at 5,069 points, and another All-America performance from jumper Wendy Copeland to set the table in Knoxville, Tenn.
Aaron said she is confident in the 800 meters, shot put, and javelin events of the heptathlon but is concerned her lack of speed work the past few weeks could hurt her time in the 200.
Her juggle of events is unlike any other athlete on the team, with her leg on the relay team and 100 hurdles spot creating a busy stretch of events with seven other events.
With nine events, Aaron doesn''t have much time to worry about who she will face.
"I just like to go off knowing what I can do," Aaron said. "I''m always going to push myself no matter what the next person does. I''m already nervous because I''ve been struggling a little bit with outdoor hurdles, so I''m just hoping everything comes together in that one race."
Freshman Keisha Wallace also will run the 100 hurdles and has the SEC''s seventh-best PR at 13.51.
Copeland, the SEC''s No. 2 long jumper, enters Saturday ready to face rival Shara Proctor, of Florida. The pair dueled during indoor season, and Copeland gushed about how much she wants to top the All-American.
Copeland''s long jump personal best is 20 feet, 7 inches, a foot shorter than Proctor''s best this season. After winning the NCAA Mideast Regional last season, the MSU senior is expected to haul in eight points this weekend.
Junior jumper Jessica Merriweather enters the SEC meet ranked seventh in the high jump at 5-9 1/4, while freshmen Muir and Wallace are eighth and seventh in the 400 and 100 hurdles, respectively. Crystal Wilson scored in the 400 at last year''s conference meet and is ranked in the top 10 of the event.
MSU coach Al Schmidt is confident the team can improve on last year''s point total, despite relying on freshmen in multiple events.
"This is probably the most successful team, both men and women, I''ve had," Schmidt said. "What''s difficult for these athletes is the number of races they have to run. Athletes on both sides are maybe going to do four events. There may be men and women here who will come out of the meet having run eight to nine races. Then we have to be standing up in two weeks and go to the first round of the NCAAs.
"It''s a daunting task when you get on a track, get on a runway, or get in a ring to throw that you cannot have a sub-par performance. But that''s the SEC, and that''s what we''re here for."