OXFORD, Miss. - A collection of some of the nation's best collegiate athletes will be on display this weekend at the Southeastern Conference Indoor Track & Field Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The Ole Miss men and women should fit right in.
The Rebels, who are ranked just outside the national top 25 on both the men's and women's sides in head coach Connie Price-Smith's first season at the helm, will test their mettle against the best of the best in the SEC at the University of Arkansas' Randal Tyson Track Center on Friday and Saturday.
The meet begins at 11 a.m. CT both days and live results can be found at arkansasrazorbacks.com.
The SEC Indoor Championships will be streamed live on SEC Network + Friday from 3:55-8:15 p.m. CT and Saturday from 2:55-7:30 p.m. CT. The meet will also air as part of a two-hour show on ESPN on Sunday at 6 p.m. CT. The broadcast talent includes Dwight Stones, Larry Rawson and John Anderson.
Price-Smith has overseen a record-setting campaign at Ole Miss so far in 2016, including indoor school records in 10 events between the men and women. Foremost among those are the exploits of sophomore thrower Raven Saunders, who has broken the all-time NCAA record in the women's shot put as well as the school record in the weight throw. She will pace a women's squad that should enjoy significant improvement upon last year's 13th-place finish.
The Ole Miss men achieved their best SEC indoor result since 1984 when they placed fourth at last year's league meet in Lexington, Kentucky. They are expected to continue their upward trajectory this weekend with a slew of potential points from the middle and long distance races, in particular.
The Rebels own the top time in the SEC in four different events this season, including junior Robert Domanic's 4:00.19 in the mile and school-record 7:54.58 in the 3000 meters. Senior Ryan Walling is the league's best in the 5000 meters with a school-record 13:39.44, while the distance medley relay of Domanic, Ryan Manahan, Craig Engels and Sean Tobin possess a school-record time of 9:30.48. Other top-three SEC marks belong to Manahan in the 800 meters (1:47.37) and mile (4:00.38), Tobin in the 3000 meters (7:58.75) and Branden Greene in the high jump (2.15m/7-0.5).
The Rebels will encounter stiff competition throughout the two-day meet, though. Just how good is the SEC? Check out these quick facts:
Thirteen SEC men's and women's teams are ranked among the nation's top 25 currently.
The SEC boasts the nation's top men's team (Arkansas) and three of the top four women's teams.
A nation-leading six SEC men's teams are nationally ranked this week, all six in the top 10: No. 1 Arkansas, No. 3 LSU, No. 4 Tennessee, No. 5 Texas A&M, No. 8 Georgia and No. 10 Florida.
A nation-leading seven SEC women's teams are nationally ranked this week: No. 2 Georgia, No. 3 Florida, No. 4 Arkansas, No. 8 Tennessee, No. 12 LSU, No. 15 Kentucky and No. 20 Texas A&M.
SEC men's and women's athletes lead the nation in 12 individual events entering the weekend.
The SEC will have the most national top-25 performers across all conference meets this weekend in the men's 60m (10), 200m (11), 400m (11), 800m (9) and 4x400m relay (7) and the women's 60m (13), 200m (14), 400m (13), 60m hurdles (7) and long jump (11).
On her first SEC Championships: "It's going to be like Nationals. I'm looking for the athletes to just go in there and compete and do what they did throughout the year to get there. We have a lot of athletes that are sitting in scoring positions in the charts, and all they have to do is go in and compete and not be afraid."
On the Randal Tyson Track Center: "It's a great place to compete. The atmosphere is great. The fans are knowledgeable. It's just a nice, fun environment to compete in."
Ole Miss Notables:
Both the Rebel men and women are top 32 in this week's USTFCCCA national rankings ... The men have a high ranking of 17th (Week 4), while the women have risen as high as 23rd (Week 3) this season.
Ole Miss is under the direction of first-year head coach Connie Price-Smith, who will make her SEC Championships debut this weekend after 14 years as the head coach of her alma mater, Southern Illinois.
Price-Smith, a four-time Olympian during her distinguished career as a professional thrower, will serve as head coach for the Team USA women at this summer's Rio Olympics.
Ole Miss is coming off a fourth-place men's finish and 13th-place women's result at last year's SEC indoor meet.
One of the stories of the 2016 indoor collegiate track & field season has been the sensational shot putting of sophomore Raven Saunders, who has improved upon her freshman year at SIU in which she won two NCAA titles ... This year, Saunders has broken the all-time women's collegiate shot put record (19.23m/63-1.25) and currently ranks No. 1 in the U.S. and No. 2 in the world.
Saunders ranks No. 5 on the all-time U.S. indoor shot put list and No. 7 when combining indoor and outdoor.
Saunders, a Bowerman Award candidate, has the 14 best shot puts in the NCAA this season.
The first-ever national weekly award winner in Ole Miss track & field history, she is a two-time USTFCCCA Women's National Athlete of the Week and four-time SEC Women's Field Athlete of the Week recipient this year.
Saunders also ranks 15th in the NCAA in the weight throw with an Ole Miss record heave of 20.78m/68-2.25.
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