Competition in what could be Auburn's strongest event, the hammer, is scheduled for Friday as the eighth-ranked Tigers look for momentum heading into weekend with most of the points to be awarded on Saturday and Sunday.
Defending NCAA champion Jake Dunkleberger is the number two ranked hammer thrower among all collegians this season behind teammate and fellow senior Cory Martin, who broke Dunkleberger's record this season with a toss of better than 239 feet.
"Those guys are fierce competitors," Spry says. "Cory Martin is going to score big points. He will throw the hammer, discus and the shot put and can score heavily in all three events. Dunkleberger will score in the shot put also."
(left to right) Edis Elkasevic, Eric Werskey, Cory Martin, Jake Dunkleberger and Zach Clayton will be busy this weekend in the power events.
"Two years ago, when the women's team won the national championship, we had a lot of senior leadership, and that is kind of where our men's team is," Spry says.
"We have four or five guys who are seniors and I have always said those guys have gotten it done year in and year out. They have real been battle-tested--Jake Dunkleberger, Cory Martin and Ty Akins. All of those guys are All-Americans and SEC champions. That is the kind of firepower we are able to line up."
The Tigers feature three other talented performers in the power events with Edis Elkasevic, Eric Werskey and Zach Clayton having the potential to help the home team rack up points.
"We are very fortunate to have those guys on campus," Spry says. "Coach (Jerry) Clayton, my throws coach, does a great job getting those kind of kids and getting them to maximize their talent.
"Zach Clayton, a football player and Coach Clayton's son, is throwing very well in the discus. He hasn't had a lot of time to work on it because he is so dedicated to football. He is throwing very well. He has qualified for the regional championship and has a good chance to go to nationals.
"We also have a transfer, Eric Werskey out of Indiana, who is nationally ranked in the shot put and discus so we have five throwers who are really potent," the coach notes.
Spry says how the big guys perform will set the tone for his team. "That is going to be a key to the meet," he states. "That is most of our firepower this weekend. If they have a great weekend with the throws, that will get the ball rolling and kind of get everybody rolling."
Elkasevic, a two-time NCAA champion in the shot put, has been limited by injuries the past two seasons, but Spry is hopeful the senior will be ready to score in the shot put and discus this weekend.
Another strong event for the AU men's team is the hurdles with Akins competing against a talented field in the 110 highs.
"It is real important to have guys like Ty Akins, who is the defending SEC and national champion, and Reuben McCoy (400 hurdles), who is an SEC champion and three-time All-American," Spry says. "Those guys are hungry. This is their senior year and they know this is their last SEC Championship. It means something to them. They want to send the team out with a bang."
Ty Akins is coach's dream as a team leader and competitor," Spry says.
The Tigers have the potential to score in the distance events with sophomore Felix Kiboiywo in the 1500 (metric mile) and 5,000 and freshman J.P. Weerts in the 5,000 and 10,000. Kiboiywo has a shot to win the 1500 and Weerts has the best time in the country this season in the 5,000.
"What we are going to need is for people to step up and put some good performances down early so we can feed on that," Spry says.
The women's team, which is ranked 25th, is rebuilding this year, but does have talented competitors such as freshman Joanna Atkins, who Spry says has "been sensational." She is ranked nationally in the 100, 200 and 400 and is a key member of the 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams.
"She is young but competes like she has been around for a while," Spry says.
Another multi-event standout for the Tigers is sophomore Katlin Mate, who scored in the discus, shot and javelin at last year's SEC meet. She is the sister of former Tiger NCAA discus champion Gabor Mate.
Sophomore Danielle Gilchrist made the nationals in the 100 and 400 hurdles events last season.
The Tigers also have a high jumper, junior Raevan Harris, who has a chance to win a league title.
With eight SEC men's teams in the Top 25 and six of the women's squads ranked, the competition will be fierce and it will feature dozens of athletes who are expected to compete in this year's Olympics.
"The SEC is tough, but that is the kind of challenge we thrive on," Spry says.
In addition to the hammer events on Friday evening, the men's and women's 10,000 will be contested along with the prelims of the 400 hurdles and the 800 meters.
Tickets are $10 per day or $20 for the whole event that runs through Sunday evening. Tickets for students and children are $5 per day or $10 for a pass to the entire meet.