Ole Miss Track & Field Season Preview: Part I
Jan. 10, 2017
In 2017, Ole Miss looks to carry the momentum from head coach Connie Price-Smith's first season at the helm in 2016 when the Rebels broke numerous records and posted some of their best showings in program history. Part I of this three-part season preview series will look at the sprints, hurdles and jumps units. The 2017 indoor season begins Friday at the Commodore Invitational in Nashville, Tennessee.
When asked how she prepares her teams for Southeastern Conference Championships as compared to NCAA Championships, Connie Price-Smith says, "Our SEC meet is like the national championship. It's just as tough."
In a league that features so many of the nation's top teams and athletes, rising to the top is not an easy task. That rings especially true in the sprints, hurdles and jumps, in which the SEC has long been heralded as boasting the nation's very best.
With a young and relatively inexperienced group of sprinters, hurdlers and jumpers in 2016, Price-Smith and her staff had the challenging task to prepare them for the rigors of such a league, but the results were admirable.
Branden Greene claimed the 2016 SEC outdoor high jump crown and went on to earn second team All-America status at the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
Lindsey Murray was also a second team outdoor All-American and broke the indoor and outdoor school records in the women's pole vault.
Ole Miss' women's 4x100-meter relay (which returns three of four legs in 2017) made its second straight NCAA appearance and garnered second team All-America status.
Here is an in-depth look at these event areas entering the 2017 season.
The Ole Miss women, ranked 21st in the USTFCCCA preseason rankings, will be without graduated standout Khadijah Suleman, who finished her 2016 senior season in the top five in school history in the indoor 60 and 200 meters and outdoor 100 and 200 meters.
However, the Rebels return three-fourths of the 4x100-meter relay squad that made a second straight NCAA appearance and finished 16th in the nation for second team All-America accolades. Returning from that unit are juniors Nicole Henderson (New Orleans, La.) and Shannon Ray (New Orleans, La.), as well as senior Breanna Tate (Nashville, Tenn.).
In the long sprints, Jolie Carbo (Terry, Miss.) will look to carry the momentum from a sophomore season in which she jumped into the top 10 of the school record charts in both the indoor and outdoor 400 meters. She will team up with senior Deanna Tate (Nashville, Tenn.) and junior Mercedes Mattix (Columbus, Miss.) to lead the way on that front.
Those upperclassmen will guide a women's sprint group that added freshmen Kieshonna Brooks (Bassaterre, St. Kitts & Nevis), Jeanette Paul (Harbor City, Calif.) and Kaira Simmons (Rockledge, Fla.), as well as junior college transfer Jasmin Allen (Raleigh, N.C.).
"They're definitely in a lot better shape than they were last year at this point," assistant coach Anthony Acklin said of his group. "They're stronger and running a lot better. We should see them running a lot of good marks."
On the men's side, Ole Miss lost senior Darryl Brown from last year's team and added a brand-new crop of mostly non-scholarship runners who are looking to surprise people and make noise in the SEC. Among the group of Courtland Barnes (Oxford, Miss.), Triston Blaney (Brentwood, Tenn.), Blake Cleary (Bowling Green, Ky.), Nick DeRay (Colorado Springs, Colo.), Andrew Raspo (Modesto, Calif.), Trace Walters (Hattiesburg, Miss.) and Alvin Westbrook (Olive Branch, Miss.). DeRay and Westbrook have particular upside to make a mark on the 400 meters.
"It's an outstanding group," Acklin said. "I don't think I've ever had a men's group that works as hard or is as dedicated as these guys. Training is going well."
Ole Miss returns 400-meter hurdler Aisha Newsome (Brookville, Pa.), while freshmen Jeanette Paul (Harbor City, Calif.) and Kieshonna Brooks (Bassaterre, St. Kitts & Nevis) will look to contribute right away to the team's success. Paul brings PRs of 14.24 in the 100-meter hurdles and 41.54 in the 400-meter hurdles, while Brooks ran a 13.71 in the 100-meter hurdles during her prep days.
Freshmen Blake Cleary (Bowling Green, Ky.) and Trace Walters (Hattiesburg, Miss.) will serve as the men's lone full-time hurdlers, while training alongside multi-event senior Peyton Moss (Germantown, Tenn.).
Returning All-American and SEC champion Branden Greene (San Diego, Calif.) headlines a two-man jumps group that also includes newcomer Emanuel Foster (Sanford, Fla.). The senior, who is top four in school history in the indoor and outdoor high jump and also competes in the long jump, has already taken the freshman long and triple jumper under his wing.
"Branden has kind of adopted Emanuel as a little brother," said assistant coach Andre Scott, who oversees the jumpers. "He keeps him in line, and he can teach him what the coaches are asking them to do. That makes the transition easier coming from high school to college.
Scott has 10+ women competing in the various jumps disciplines, headlined by veteran Lanae Newsome (Brookville, Pa.) and newcomers Kaira Simmons (Rockledge, Fla.), Raleisheia Gee (Starkville, Miss.) and Lilli Williamson (Fort Worth, Texas). Newsome has a personal-best triple jump of 41-0.25, while Simmons was one of the nation's top high school long jumpers and a Florida state champion last year with a PR of 20-2.25. Gee will help in the long and triple jump, while Williamson is expected to lead the way among the high jumpers.
"Coming into the first meet, I actually expect most of our kids to jump around their PRs, if not a little better," Scott said.
Ole Miss has a growing presence in the pole vault community, as evidenced by its cover photo in the October issue of Vaulter Magazine and the amazing success of Rio Olympics bronze medalist and Ole Miss alum Sam Kendricks.
Assistant coach Brian Porter has added several top-notch recruits to his crew and looks for both the men and women to make noise in the SEC.
For the women, returning All-American Lindsey Murray (Harrisburg, Ill.) hopes to build on a sophomore season that saw her break the Ole Miss indoor and outdoor pole vault records. She is the only woman in school history to clear 14 feet.
Murray will be joined by returnees Katy McAuley (Pontotoc, Miss.) and Callie Watson (Tupelo, Miss.), while the group will be further bolstered by freshmen Sandra Brown (Indianapolis, Ind.) and Nicole Kallenberger (Lee's Summit, Mo.). Brown has an incoming PR of 13-2 and Kallenberger a best mark of 13-0.
The men got career-best pole vault performances out of veterans Barclay Angle (Madison, Miss.) and decathlete Peyton Moss (Germantown, Tenn.) last year, with Angle surging all the way to an eighth-place finish at the SEC outdoor meet. They will look to mentor incoming freshmen Cole Colozzo (Stuart, Fla.) and Austin Garrett (Harrisville, W. Va.), who could make immediate impacts themselves.
"It looks like our athletes are primed and ready after some really good work in the offseason," Porter said. "Each workout since we've been back has gotten better and better, so I'm pumped about where we're at heading into the season."
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