A Q&A With MSU Track Coach Steve Dudley

Mississippi State head track coach Steve Dudley talks one-on-one with Gene's Page about this year's track teams.

Explain why MSU doesn't have an SEC men's indoor track team.
"There is an SEC rule, title 9-wise, that says you have to have two more women's sports than men's sports. (Our women) have cross country (track), outdoor (track) and indoor (track). That's three sports for women. With us not sponsoring indoor track for men that means we only have two sports for track, cross country and outdoor."

How do the MSU men compete in indoor track if it's not sponsored?
"Although we don't have an indoor track team for the men, SEC-wise, we still have some men who compete in indoor track. As long as we don't take a full team and only take individuals we can classify it as a non-sponsored SEC sport. If you don't sponsor a sport in the conference you don't compete in the SEC championship. You can compete in the NCAA championships, though."

Why do the men even compete in indoor season?
"I'll give you an example. How good would our men's basketball team be if they only compete in games starting in January? Or how many good recruits would come to a school if they could only compete in their sport for half a season? It makes it pretty tough if you limit yourself to half a season. But if you can take individuals to meets and the nationals that helps prevent us from being hurt badly in recruiting."

What are your expectations for this year's outdoor team?
"Every year our minimum expectations are to make the top 25 at nationals. And we have done a pretty good job of that the last 10 to 12 years. But at some point we have to have a situation where we are in the top 5, top 10 with a chance to win the entire thing. We were 20th last year and we have a lot of people back. And we also redshirted some people as well. At some point we have to, and I hate to use this word, over-achieve."

The indoor men's track team has a chance to over-achieve but fell a little short at nationals. They were ranked 6th in the nation, but wound up 21st at nationals.
"I was disappointed in that. But the rankings are based on real calibrations. If one person get sick they may lose a point or two individually. And if they are on a relay team the relay team may not end up quite a high as they are ranked. That will cause you to fall a few spots. As an example, our relay team was 3/10s of a second behind the second place team.

"Think of it this way, when you get up in the morning you don't always feel the same way every morning. Some mornings you may feel better than other mornings. But you have to be 100% when do you an event. You have to rely on ever kid to be 100% on the relay team. If they aren't 100%, then the team may be off a few 10s of a second. And that will cause you to lose points. Because of that, it is very, very crucial for every member of the relay team to be 100% the day of the meet.

"For them to be at 100% there is a lot of coaching that goes into it. And a lot of that is their training, making sure they are training correctly. You have to do your best to make sure they are ready. But at some point, we have to seize the day. Maybe, if one event doesn't score well, then someone else has to make up the loss points by scoring."

Isn't that where depth comes into play? If you have more depth you can make up for loss points.
"At the conference level you have to have more depth but at the national level you have to have more quality. If you aren't an Olympian or at least going to your Olympic Trails then you aren't going to score at nationals. You have to be that good to score at nationals."

You mention quality. You are adding more quality to the track team. In the past, the sprinters have been the main scorers but now you are scoring more points in other events now.
"We are definitely making an effort to be a more well-rounded program. When you get to meets and you just have sprinters and one sprinter gets sick, then that takes away your individual points and relay points. Due to that, we have to get to the point where we have other people in other events who can seize the day and score in their events.

"An example of that is Marcus Jackson. He wasn't expected to score in nationals but he stepped up and wound up fourth. That helped to keep us among the top 25 in the nation.

"But we have to get to the point where on an average day we finish 7th or 8th in the country and on an above average day we win it. That's where we want to be. And to do that we have to get more quality."

You have quality in the sprinters and some of the jumps. You even had an All-SEC performer in the shot put and discus, Ed Weslea. Is he to the point where he may also score in the nationals?
"He has a chance to make it to the last two rounds of nationals this year. He made it to the second round of nationals last year, but in events like that your improvement rate is very, very small. You can work as hard as possible every day 40 to 42 weeks per year and a lot of times your improvement may only be less than 1%."

What are the strengths of this year's men's track team?
"Our strengths are the sprint areas. I also believe we have a multi-event decathlete that has a chance to go nationals. Both of the high jumps are a good area for us on the national level. Some of the areas we are strong in this year we weren't strong in last year. We were 20th last year and we have added strengths this year so we should be better than 20th this year."

Switching over to the women's side of track. How much improved are they?
"They have gotten a lot better. I believe the women's outdoor finished 10th (in the SEC) last year, the highest in their history. I believe the women's indoor team finished 7th (in the SEC) this year. Prior to that finish the highest had been 9th. We signed a lot of women in last year's recruiting class, I believe it was 21. Not all of them will score right now but there has been a definite impact from the freshmen this year. We have several freshmen who have scored and they have also pushed the older ones to get better.

"Like with the men, we want to get the women's team kick-started so that they will be among the top 25 country on a consistent basis. If you want your program to be consistent you have to find a way to be in the top 25 even if you aren't expected to be top 25. We want our program to be the type where the kids expect us to be top 25 no matter what, no matter if someone gets sick or hurt."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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