The Finish Line

It was difficult to find highlights for Ole Miss sports last school year. But track and field, a program that competes through the month of June, stood at the top.

Joe Walker's men finished 19th nationally in the outdoor season. This was after finishing 11th nationally in the indoor season.

It was a special year for that sport.

"There's no opinion in our sport. You earn your way," said Walker, the veteran Ole Miss head coach. "I'm really pleased that we were able to finish in the top 20. It's impressive for this team to have done that both in indoor and outdoor this year."

His women's team had a solid year as well, finishing 23rd nationally in the indoor season and taking a school-record nine women to the NCAA Outdoor Championships in June.

Three Rebels scored points for the men at the NCAA Outdoors, led by sophomore Ricky Robertson's runner-up performance in the high jump. Senior Lee Ellis Moore placed sixth in the 400 meter hurdles and Mike Granger got seventh in the 100 meter dash.

The Rebel men's team finished fourth among Southeastern Conference schools at the NCAA Outdoors. Florida, LSU, and Arkansas were ahead of the Rebels in the final standings.

"One of the significant aspects that will not show up in a team score was how many people we had make it to the National semi-finals and finals competition," Walker said. "That was phenomenal for us. In our sport it's truly a national competition. The SEC has its own meaning, and we're trying to do well in the SEC.

"But as far as advancing in our sport, the SEC meet has no effect. You determine your own fate. There are two (NCAA) Regional meets for track – one in the West and one in the East. You advance from there to the semi-finals and finals. We took nine women and seven men to the NCAA Outdoor Championships."

Walker said the positives his teams were able to accomplish this past school year vault them into 2011-12 with a lot of momentum.

"To me your final ranking has to be one of your criteria," Walker said of evaluating a single school year. "When you end a football or basketball or baseball season, where were you ranked is always a question people want to know. As I said, our sport is not an opinion poll. I can't ever say it's the eastern writers that are not voting for us or anything like that. We determine it through performance. Most of the year the men were ranked 18th or 19th in the outdoor. And that's where we wound up. In a lot of ways you would evaluate us nationally among the elite, based on where we finished and how many people we took."

Individually, several Ole Miss track members were named All-America in 2011. Receiving first-team honors were sophomore high jumper Robertson, senior hurdler Moore and sophomore sprinter Granger. Second-team distinction went to junior hurdler Carson Blanks, senior sprinter Jonathan Juin, sophomore triple jumper Morris Kersh, junior long jumper Caleb Lee, and sophomore women's triple jumper Marci Morman.

All seven men that Ole Miss sent to the NCAA Outdoor Championships earned All-America recognition.

Walker's troops wrapped up the school year in late June at the USA Outdoor Championships. The highlight for Ole Miss was former Rebel women's long jump champion Brittney Reese, who won her fourth straight U.S. long jump championship with a career-best leap of 7.19 meters (23-07.25) on her final attempt.

Her jump is the longest in the world this year by a wide margin and beat the next closest competitor by nearly a foot. Reese is the two-time defending world champion in the event.

"Brittney is such a great competitor and once again proved she's one of the best ever in our sport," said Walker, who still trains Reese in Oxford. "She's a great Ole Miss track alum and represents us well."

With this successful year behind them, Ole Miss track and field looks to the fall. Two in-state signees were named to prestigious honors this spring.

The pair was honored as the top high school track and field athletes in the state of Mississippi. Oxford's Sam Kendricks was named the 2010-11 Gatorade Mississippi Boys Athlete of the Year, while Taryn Hartfield of Hattiesburg was tabbed the 2010-11 Gatorade Mississippi Girls Athlete of the Year.

"Some of the best athletes on our team are in-state kids, and we are excited for these two to add to that Mississippi legacy," Walker said.

Walker also said his program is strong because the participants in it help make it strong.

"Our kids have been good ambassadors. A lot of folks say that, but we've been really blessed with some great people being our great athletes," Walker said, now with 43 years of coaching on his resume' from high school through the college ranks. "A lot of people realize things are going well at Ole Miss. We're getting looks from a lot of (prospective) athletes that in the past we didn't get a look from. It does seem to be a good time for us."

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