Running at Home

Ole Miss will host the first of two spring track meets this Saturday in Oxford. The Ole Miss Invitational is an all day event at the Ole Miss Track Complex.

Joe Walker's track teams, the men ranked 13th in the country in outdoor track, are in the heart of their spring season. The hope is they can finish strongly, just as they did in the indoor season.

"We were 11th in the country on the men's side, and 23rd in the country on the women's side," said the veteran Ole Miss head coach of his team's indoor track season. "There is no regular season in track. There are meets. Then you have a national championship event. People are invited. Then the chips fall where they may. We had a rough SEC Meet. We had some with sickness, some with illness, some bad performances. So it was nice to finish as well as we did at the NCAAs."

Three members of the men's team and two members from the women's team earned All-America honors. Sophomore Mike Granger earned first team All-America honors with his second-place finish in the 60 meters with a time of 6.55. Sophomore Ricky Robertson also garnered first-team honors with his second-place finish in the high jump (7-03.75). Junior Caleb Lee took home second team All-America honors with his 15th-place finish in the long jump with a mark of 24-03.75.

On the women's side, junior Sofie Persson, who finished third overall at the NCAA Indoor Championships in the 800 meters, also earned first team All-America accolades. She ran a 2:04.89, and her third-place showing is the top 800 meter NCAA finish in school history. Senior Juliana Smith recorded a fifth-place finish in the weight throw (66-11.50) to garner first-team honors. The mark broke Smith's own school record and gives her the distinction of being the first female in school history to score points in the weight throw at the NCAA Championships.

"We had a phenomenal NCAA meet," Walker said. "We had two NCAA runner-ups. I thought Granger had won it. It was that close at the line. It was a photo finish. So that's about as close as you can come to being a national champion and not be a national champion.

"Then Ricky Robertson was runnerup for the second year in a row. The same guy that beat him this year beat him last year. Sofie Persson ran a magnificent race and took the lead with 200 to go. She almost held on but couldn't quite hold on. Juliana Smith was fifth in the weight throw. She had a new school record and a seasonal best.

"Caleb Lee in the long jump was our other participant. He didn't jump as well as he can. He had a little step problem. His approach wasn't as consistent and good as we would like for it to have been. He hit one jump that would probably have put him in scoring position, but it was a foul. We felt like he was going to solve it, but he didn't solve it."

Walker said such a big stage takes some time to adjust.

"It was Caleb's first time there, and it was Juliana's first time there," he said. "It's a little bit of an adjustment to get there, because there is so fine a line. At the indoor, they take less people than they do at the outdoor. It's a much tighter, more competitive situation."

Walker said his team's finish at the SEC Indoor was something to reflect on and be pleased with.

"I think it's an outstanding accomplishment," he said. "There were two SEC men's teams that beat us, and three SEC women's teams."

Full attention is now, and has been for a few weeks, on the outdoor season, which heads all the way into June for the NCAA Outdoor Championships.

"I'm excited about outdoors," said Walker, whose team hosts meets in Oxford on April 9 and April 23. "We should be a better outdoor team. We need to stay healthy. We need to perform like we did at the NCAA Indoors. We need to show our true colors and show who we really are. So I'm excited about it."

Walker says one key is always to stay healthy. He says when a student-athlete is not at his or her top form, winning is much more difficult.

"You're not talking about being reasonably fit. You're talking about an extreme super fitness that separates them," he said of the winners and the close finishers. "You can't imagine how close some of these events are. It's such a thin line.

"We can't be 90 percent. Ninety percent in most any other sport is plenty good if you're talented. We're trying to be as close to 100 percent as we can. When you do that, sometimes you're putting yourself at risk of maybe overtraining or being injured.

"We have to know how hard to push and when to back off. That's part of our job as a coach."

Ole Miss track and field athlete Barnabas Kirui has been named as one of two recipients of the 2010-11 Brad Davis Southeastern Conference Community Service Leaders of the Year. Each will receive a $6,000 post-graduate scholarship, provided by the SEC.

Kirui was the NCAA champion in the 3000 meter Steeplechase in 2007 and was the SEC champion for three years (2006, 2009 and 2010) in cross country and 3,000, 5,000 and 10,000 meters. He was named the SEC Track and Field Athlete of the Year in 2007 and 2010.

Kirui founded a project called "Rebel Reruns" in which Ole Miss student-athletes collect shoes and sports cleats that are sent back to less fortunate children in Kirui's native country of Kenya. He is a member of STAND - Students Against Genocide in Darfur - and a member of the African Caribbean Association.

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