OXFORD, Miss. - Columbia, Mo., is the site of one of the world's elite track & field meets this year as the 14 teams that make up the talent-rich Southeastern Conference descend upon the University of Missouri campus for the SEC Outdoor Championships this Thursday-Sunday.
Ole Miss, whose men's team is ranked 16th in the country, is one of several league schools that sport a nationally ranked squad. Other ranked men's teams include defending NCAA Champion Florida at No. 1, No. 2 Texas A&M, No. 5 Arkansas, No. 7 Georgia, No. 12 LSU and No. 20 Alabama. Ranked women's teams include No. 2 Texas A&M, No. 3 Florida, No. 4 LSU, No. 6 Arkansas and No. 10 Georgia.
"For us this is the most exciting time of the year," said first-year Ole Miss head coach Brian O'Neal. "It's an accumulation of everything we've learned about ourselves this year and a chance to go in and compete in the toughest league there is in the United States.
"The old SEC was always pressure-packed. Now you bring in two tradition-rich teams in Texas A&M and Missouri and you've just added more fuel to the fire. Points will be at a premium this weekend, but we expect our kids to get in there and compete, and at the end of the day, put our best foot forward."
Leading the way for the Rebels are two of the world's best this year in sophomore pole vaulter Sam Kendricks and senior sprinter Isiah Young.
Kendricks has been the world leader in the pole vault since he established a school-record mark of 19-0.75 to win the event at the Texas Relays on March 29. He has consistently cleared 18 feet at almost every meet this season. The Oxford, Miss., native was the only collegian in a nine-man field of professionals at the recent Drake Relays and tied for the third-best clearance of 18-0.5.
Young has been scorching the track in recent weeks and currently ranks 10th in the world in the 100 meters and 11th in the 200. The 2012 Olympian who hails from Junction City, Kan., recently defended his 100-meter title and was voted Most Outstanding Performer at the Drake Relays. He broke his own school record with his winning time of 10.07 and is now No. 2 in the NCAA this year in the 100 and No. 4 in the 200. He also anchors the Rebels' 4x100 meter relay squad, whose time of 39.69 is second-best in school history and top 15 in the NCAA this year.
The Ole Miss men placed sixth at last year's SEC outdoor meet in Baton Rouge, La., and Young won the 200 meters.
The Rebel women have broken three school records this year entering the SEC Championships. That includes two records by Kayleigh Skinner in the 5,000 meters (16:39.63) and 10,000 meters (34:59.20) and Haley Cutright in the 3,000 meter steeplechase (10:21.60).
The women placed seventh overall at last year's SEC outdoor meet, headlined by Rachel Jenkins' long jump title.
The Championships are being held at the Audrey J. Walton Stadium and begin at 11:30 a.m. CT Thursday, continuing at 11 a.m. CT Friday, 1 p.m. CT Saturday and 1 p.m. CT Sunday.
All-session tickets are available for $20 for adults and $10 for youth that provide admission to each day of the meet. Single-session tickets also can be purchased for each day of the meet for $10 for adults and $5 for youth. Fans can purchase their tickets for the SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championships today by logging on to http://www.mutigers.com/sectrack/tickets.html.
Live coverage of the meet will air on ESPN3.com on Saturday and Sunday. That coverage will air from 3:40-6:45 p.m. CT Saturday and from 2:50-6:45 p.m. CT Sunday. Sunday's trophy presentation will air live on ESPN3. Dwight Stones, Larry Rawson and Lewis Johnson will have the call.
The meet action on Thursday and Friday, and outside of the ESPN3 windows on Saturday and Sunday will air live at MUTigers.com.
Following the SEC Championships, athletes will be selected for the NCAA East Preliminary Round, which is the first round of the NCAA Championships. The NCAA will select the East region's top 48 athletes in each event (except decathlon, heptathlon and 10,000 meters) to participate at the regional. The performances at the regional will determine who makes the field for the NCAA Championships. The top 24 decathlon, heptathlon and 10,000 meter qualifiers from across the nation will be sent directly to the NCAA Championships.
If the NCAA East Preliminary was today, Ole Miss would qualify 11 men in 11 different events and 10 different women in seven different events.
The East Preliminary will take place May 24-25 in Greensboro, N.C. The NCAA Championships will be held June 5-8 in Eugene, Ore.
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