Track hosts Ole Miss Invitational Saturday

After a successful indoor campaign, the Ole Miss track and field teams kick off the outdoor season Saturday by hosting the Ole Miss invitational at the Ole Miss Track and Field Complex.

The competition is a featured event during Red and Blue Weekend and will showcase athletes that represent around 15 different colleges and universities. Highlighting the field are Conference USA participants Memphis, Southern Mississippi and Tulane.

"We are very excited about starting the outdoor season and especially doing it here on campus," Ole Miss track coach Joe Walker said. "Our men and women are both very balanced teams and should be competitive all year. There are quality teams coming Saturday and it should be a lot of fun."

The Ole Miss men's team capped off the indoor season with a top-25 ranking and will have the same respect to start the outdoor portion. The Rebels are rated the 22nd best team in the country by Trackwire.

Rankings are based on a system to project a hypothetical score for the NCAA meet, factoring in injury reports and other variables supported by information gathered from coaches and NCAA-qualifying competitions across the country. This projection is generated by scoring the Dandy Dozen, which is a power ranking of the top 12 athletes and relay squads in each NCAA event.

"The men being ranked and getting some recognition is very exciting," Walker said. "We have two male runners in the Dandy Dozen and several more who have chances for NCAA qualifying marks. The team is one of the deepest since I have been here."

Ole Miss' lofty ranking is elevated thanks to Dandy Dozen honorees Barnabas Kirui and John Yarbrough. Kirui is the 2006 SEC Cross Country champion and is currently ranked No. 4 in the 3.000-meter steeplechase. Yarbrough enters the season on top of the country with a No. 1 ranking in hurdles in part due to being named an All-American in the 110-meter hurdles in 2006.

However, Yarbrough will not be in action this weekend due to an injury. Walker hopes to have the speedster back next weekend when Ole Miss again hosts a meet on campus.

"John won't be available this weekend, but we hope it isn't serious," Walker said. "The thing with track is that a runner can't go until he is 100 percent. Unlike other sports, someone at 90 percent in track has no chance."

The women's team is yet to receive a ranking, but one athlete is on top of her Dandy Dozen category. Jumper Britney Reese is the No. 1 long jumper in the country on the heels of finishing third in the NCAA Outdoor Championships. That was arguably a disappointment for Reese as she finished the season with the longest recorded jump in the country by a professional or an amateur. The mark was 21-09.50.

"The women are very athletic and can be ranked soon with a few good performances. We have four jumpers who have went over 20 feet this season and the leader is Reese. The entire team is elevated when you have someone on the top of their game like she is."

The event kicks off on Saturday at 10 a.m., with the men's hammer and the women's javelin. The running events begin at 12 p.m. with the women's 5,000 meters. The gates at the Ole Miss Track and Field Complex open at 8:30 a.m.

"We have always performed well at home and you can't put a price on having family in the stands," Walker said. "We run as well here as anywhere and it will be a great weekend if we can get the weather to cooperate. It will be good competition and a great chance to show off our top of the line facility."

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