On Thursday the top track teams in the country will converge on Starkville for the SEC Championships for track and field. Nine of the 11 SEC men's teams that will compete for the SEC title are ranked in the top 15 in the country. On the women's side, the No. 2 and No. 3 teams will be on display.

Photo: MSU's Tiffany McWillams (far right)
"> On Thursday the top track teams in the country will converge on Starkville for the SEC Championships for track and field. Nine of the 11 SEC men's teams that will compete for the SEC title are ranked in the top 15 in the country. On the women's side, the No. 2 and No. 3 teams will be on display.

Photo: MSU's Tiffany McWillams (far right)
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MSU Expects Success in the SEC Championships

<img src="http://www.genespage.com/images/01players/track/2002/tmcwilliams.jpg" align="left" width="206" height="204"> On Thursday the top track teams in the country will converge on Starkville for the SEC Championships for track and field. Nine of the 11 SEC men's teams that will compete for the SEC title are ranked in the top 15 in the country. On the women's side, the No. 2 and No. 3 teams will be on display.<P> <h6>Photo: MSU's Tiffany McWillams (far right)</h6>

"The SEC is the dominant conference in the country in track and field," said MSU coach Al Schmidt with the above facts to back his statement up. "There is a good possibility that the top four teams at the NCAA will be SEC schools."

While Tennessee's men's squad is ranked No. 1 in the country, the SEC meet will be wide open due to the competition.

"Every SEC school has specialized in a certain area," said Schmidt. "Tennessee, over the years, has really controlled the sprints. Right now, LSU and Arkansas are really pulling for us to dominate the sprints, so that they will have a better chance to win the SEC and NCAA championship."

In the fall, the SEC sent 79 athletes to the NCAA Indoor Championships. No other conference even came close.

"If you combined the PAC-10, Big East, ACC and Big 12, they had 79 athletes there, total," said Schmidt. "Those numbers will be the same at the outdoor meet in a few weeks."

Schmidt knows that for his teams to fare well in the upcoming event, that it will take consistency and some athletes to really step up.

"I think our guys could really fare well here, and should be top four. They will have to be consistent in their events though," said Schmidt. "Our women could score more points than they have ever scored before. They should be top seven."

Just as in all other sports, the home-field advantage is a definite in track and field. Athletes get to stay in their normal routine and compete in a familiar environment.

"I think being at home will definitely be an advantage, because we should be able to get on the track before everyone else and warm up," said Pierre Browne.

Hosting the SEC Championship also has certain advantages for the school and the track team.

"Mississippi State always puts on great events, and this will be another one," said Schmidt. "This will allow us to gain some exposure, but mostly it will allow us to upgrade some of our facilities. That will definitely be a great advantage for us in the future."

The Athletes

On the men's side, MSU will bring in the third fastest 4x100 team in the country. The team recorded a school record tying time of 39.12 seconds at the Penn Relays.

"We could have run faster at the Penn Relays, but we made a couple of mistakes, and Glenn (McFadden) wasn't 100 percent," said MSU sprinter Pierre Browne. "We should win (the 4x100) by at least three meters. In Pennsylvania we caught up with Tennessee and would have won if we had two more meters."

Three of the four members of that squad have posted top 10 times in the SEC in the 100-meter dash. Pierre Browne leads the way with a 10.13 time.

As well as running the 4x100, Browne, Dion Crabbe, Marquis Davis and Glenn McFadden also run the 4x200. The team has already posted the third fastest time in school history with a time of 1:21.58. All four members of the team are in the top 10 in the SEC in the 200.

"I think that we could win the SEC meet, we just have to do what we know we can do," said senior Crabbe. "We could go 1,2,3 in the 100 and 200."

Everyone in the conference and the country has seen the success of Browne and Bulldog newcomer Davis. But a few Bulldogs have the opportunity to sneak up on the rest of the conference.

"Dion (Crabbe) is definitely the leader of this team, and not a lot of people know about his abilities. He is the best turn runner that I have ever seen," said Schmidt. "He should have made the NCAA Indoor meet, but he caught some bad breaks. Freshman LaChristopher Lewis is from Coldwater, Miss. He is a very talented young man, and has the ability to score some points."

Another Bulldog newcomer that most track experts know about is freshman Glen McFadden. Nicknamed "McFast" in high school, McFadden was ranked as the fastest high school boy in the country. Despite his earlier successes, McFadden knows the difficulty of the SEC.

"I know that it will be really tough, but my main goal is to make the finals," said McFadden. "Guys like Dion and Pierre have really showed me the way and helped me to work harder."

On the women's side, MSU is led by a group of young distance runners. The most impressive so far this season has been freshman Tiffany McWilliams. McWilliams posted the top time in the SEC for the 1500 meters at 4:23.00.

"I really don't know what to expect with this meet. I haven't really been able to see what kind of talent is in the SEC," said McWilliams. "I had a really great time at the SEC Indoors in the fall. I normally do my best in the big meets, and I am hoping that will continue this week."

Though most of the conference didn't know the effect that McWilliams would have on the SEC this year, coach Schmidt could have predicted it.

"I knew that she was going to be great when she got here. She trains harder than any women I have ever coached," said Schmidt. "She actually trains with some of our men. I have seen some of the best women ever, and she is better than all of them."

The Bulldog women will also depend on another freshman, Meggan Hodge, and a returning all-American Camille Harper, to earn points in their events.

"Meggan Hodge is running really well right now and should really help us out during the meet," said Schmidt. "And we expect Camille (Harper) to close out her all-America career in the same manner as last year."

The Future

With all of the expected success from young athletes on both the men's and women's teams, the expectations will only grow larger.

"We will return almost everyone on the men's team, except Dion, and we are bringing in some very talented signees," said Schmidt. "The women will only get stronger. We have signed 11 athletes, already, with superior talent."

And coach Schmidt expects the old saying "success breeds success" to really hold true for the Bulldog teams of the future. Pierre Browne and Tiffany McWilliams successes are breeding future successes.

"Pierre is the type of athlete that you can build a program around, he is that talented," said Schmidt. "I receive numerous e-mails everyday from high school athletes interested in becoming Bulldogs. I seriously expect Tiffany to become that same kind of athlete on the women's side for us."


Grant Alford is a free-lance correspondent for Gene's Page. He is a student at Mississippi State University. You can contact him by email at hammer634@hotmail.com.

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