A Q&A With MSU Head Track Coach Steve Dudley

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

Your men's team was 5th in the SEC Track and Field Championship last weekend. Considering how good the SEC is that's a really good accomplishment. Also, how does the conference meet compare to the national championship meet?
"We were 5th and Florida, who is ranked second in the nation, was in 4th place a few points ahead of us. Arkansas, who is ranked much lower than us and Florida, defeated everybody handily. In the SEC conference meet you have to have a lot of depth to finish higher. I think they scored something like 190 to 196 points. We had 61 points in the conference meet. But going into the SEC meet we were ranked higher than they were nationally."

How about explaining that.
"More scholarship dollars have to be given to your alpha athletes because the points that they scored in the conference meet will also likely be scored at the nationals. Of Arkansas' 190+ points, there are probably 160 to 170 of them that won't be scored in nationals. The reason for that is a lot of their points were 3rd, 4th and 5th place finishes. When you go to nationals there are 400 teams compared to 11 at the SEC conference meet that are competing for the event points."

Talk about men and women who scored points at the SEC conference meet.
"We had two guys who scored points in the 400 hurdles. Those same two guys scored in the 110 hurdles, Nathan Arnett and Emanuel Mayers. Jarrett Samuels was 5th in the long jump and senior Trevarus Christian, who was hampered with a groin pull, got 6th in the event. He came out of nowhere and got 6th after jumping 25' 3". Christian also scored 1 point in the Decathlon, competing in it the first two days of the meet. Ed Wesela got 4th in the shot put. That was big. He has scored every year that he has been with us. We also got 2nd and 4th in the high jump, Marcus Jackson and James Harris. And there were a lot of others that scored. It was a good meet for the men because we scored in 12 of 21 events even with some mistakes. The 4x400 team was tripped up and fell down, so we didn't get those points. We had a 400 meters guy who false started. We lost those points. The good thing was the kid who false started in the 400 meters was able to come back and get third place in the high jump, which was going on at the same time.

"On the women's side, we were 10th as a team. And we obviously wanted to be higher than that because we were 7th indoors. We really had the athletes to be 7th again, maybe even 6th. We had two girls in the Heptathlon who scored, Erica Bougard, a freshman, and senior Keisha Wallace. Keisha was asked to do the Heptathlon just to try to get 1 or 2 points from it in case someone else didn't perform as well as expected. She's our good hurdler, ranked 2nd in the conference and top 5 in the NCAA. She was a shoo-in to make the Olympics but she blew her knee out in the long jump, which was the 5th event of the 7 events. Losing her costs us 30% of our women's points in the meet because we just don't have the depth on the women's side to survive an injury like that."

The 400 meters is an event your athletes are known to be really good in but you only had one guy score in it, Daundre Barnaby. Was it an off day for your 400 meters athletes or were some of them injured?
"We wound up with 2 guys in the finals of the 400, one of whom false started. There are 8 guys who run it in the finals so we had 25% of the lanes. To tell you how difficult it is to get all of your guys in the finals, Barnaby, who wound up 5th in the finals, was ranked 10th in the SEC and 12th nationally. He was not even expected to be in the finals. What you have to remember is your ranking is based on your top one-time score during the track season. Tavaris Tate, at one time, was ranked number 1 in the country but since then other people have run faster times than him. Going into the SEC meet he was ranked 3rd or 4th in the country. In the SEC meet he was the last one to not make the finals. If you are off just a little bit, off just a half of a percent, you don't make the finals in the conference. But after not making the SEC finals, an athlete might come back and, by the end of the outdoor season, be top 4 or 5 in the NCAA. That happens a lot of times."

Now that the SEC meet is over with, what is the next step in going to the NCAA Championship meet?
"The first two rounds are in Jacksonville, Florida. The east of the Mississippi teams, which is something like 196 teams, go to that meet. The top 48 athletes in each event area out of those 196 teams go to Jacksonville, Florida. At Jacksonville you have two rounds to get that 48 down to 12. From there, you go to Des Moines, Iowa where the top 12 from the east and top 12 from the west meet. There are two rounds where you get that 24 down to the top 8 overall."

How many athletes will you take on both sides, men and women, to the Jacksonville, Florida event?
"I think we have either 13 or 14 men and about 8 women."

How many of those do you expect to make it to the national meet?
"If you can get about 50% of your athletes to the nationals you've done pretty good. I think we have a good chance of getting 50%."

What are your realistic expectations for your team at the national championship meet?
"Top 15. I would be disappointed if we aren't in the top 15, and I feel we do have a shot at top 10 if we execute perfectly."

Do you feel you have a chance to win the national championship?
"Can we win a national championship, sure we can. But everybody else (ranked above us) would have to make mistakes. And I'm not the type coach who sits behind the fence wishing that everybody else has an injury or trips and falls. I want to win because we're better than the other teams."

What do you think you have to do to finally reach that point where you feel like you have a national championship caliber team?
"I have 6 events on my board (in my office) that I feel we can score points in. I would obviously like to move that to between 8 and 10. And you would also have to have some individuals who score 8 to 10 points in their events instead of 3 or 4 points like I have on my board now. 10 points means you are NCAA champion. Ultimately, I would like it to be where we score points in a lot of event areas. You place 4th in 10 events then you are in contention for a national championship."

You've signed quite a few athletes to a national letter of intent. Talk about some of those athletes.
"A couple of them that we have already announced are Brandon McBride from Canada, the number 1 high school athlete in Canada, and Strymar Livingston, the national high school record holder in two different events indoors, the 500 and the 600. He is very, very good in the 400 and 800 as well. Brandon would by far be ranked number 1 in the 800 meters in the US coming out of high school. And he did that as a junior. He's also ran very well in the 400 meters. He would be a top 10 ranked kid in the US 400-wise as well. Brandon and Strymar are two alpha type athletes that you expect to come in and be able to help all of your relays score at nationals as well as score individually."

Those two are impressive, especially when you consider they were number 1 in their nations.
"It is but remember there are a lot of countries in the world. And all of them have number 1s. It's not about where they are ranked in our country but where they are ranked world-wide. Unlike football, where if you are the best in the US then you are probably the best in the world, track is a world-wide sport. It's easier for countries without the financial backing that the US has to compete in track. So, even if you sign the number 1 ranked kid in your country, he may be number 30th in the world. And in track only the top 8 places score points in an event."

Who are some others that you signed?
"In-state wise, we signed the hurdler from Meridian, Scottie Hearn. I am very excited about him. We also signed a long jumper from Clinton, A.J. Ward. He jumped 24' 9" at our home meet, which puts him among the top 10 in the US in high school.

"We also signed several international athletes, one Australian and two Irish distance runners who should help our cross country team as well as help us score in the distance areas in the SEC and on the NCAA national level.

"Another one that we signed is Matt Marcoccia, a junior college thrower who is from Canada. He will replace (current senior) Ed Wesela.

"Women-wise, we signed a girl out of New Jersey, Stacy McNeil, that we are excited about. She is one of the top 10 hurdlers in the country. We have also signed several pole vault girls we are excited about. We also signed two international distance runners from Germany who will help us in cross country and distance in the SEC and NCAA."

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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