Jeff Roberson: Talk about the high finish for your teams this outdoor season.
Joe Walker: We ended up 12th in the men and 27th in the women (at the NCAA Championships in California). In the Super Regional (held at Missouri prior to the NCAA Championships), we were sixth in the men and 10th in the women. At the end of the last poll, both our teams were ranked in the top 25. We almost had three NCAA (individual) champions. We did have one (Barnabas Kirui, 3000 steeplechase) and also two runnerups (Brittney Reese, women's long jump; John Yarbrough, 110 hurdles). So we were close to having three. Oregon, the premier program in track, kind of like the New York Yankees of college track, even they had not had an NCAA outdoor individual champion since 1987. They had a pole vaulter who won one this year. I don't think people realize how hard it is to have an NCAA champion. We've had some NCAA champions at Ole Miss before and Barnabas was this year.
JR: Barnabas indeed led the way, but the team was strong throughout, wasn't it?
JW: Barnabas had a phenomenal year. I'm as proud of Barnabas as I can humanly be. John Yarbrough was actually the Region runner of the year. We had a cross-section of good athletes. Barnabas was the NCAA champion, the premier guy, and he also won three SEC titles. But we had John Yarbrough and Brittney Reese, and we had people scoring in the throws, the distances, the jumps. At the SEC we had three male jumpers score. We had a really strong, balanced team this year – women, men, and all events.
JR: What brought all this together for your program at this time?
JW: I think it's a combination of things. We've been close a couple of times and just haven't been able to turn the corner. We're finally able to see some of the benefits of the facility, without a doubt. It's made a difference in who we could recruit. It's made a difference in our attitude when we're working out. People know Ole Miss is serious about track. That period (of coaches offices in trailers and without a track to even practice on) really hurt us. We still did some good things during that period. But you never heard during that time any complaints from us, and we never let our kids use that as an excuse. On the other hand, it's like the old one-liner that I've seen the other side and the grass is greener. That's kind of what we're experiencing now. We now have what we need in terms of morale, in terms of training, in terms of recruiting, and it's showing up in the results.
JR: So it's fair to say the future for Ole Miss track appears bright.
JW: Without a doubt. We bring most everybody back (this upcoming year). We lost some seniors who were major factors in our program. Charles Bailey on the men's side was an SEC champion in the long jump. He didn't score nationally because he got hurt. He was actually hurt before the SEC meet, but he pulled out one of the all-time gutsy, clutch performances to win it, and he was hurt and couldn't work out. Just went and jumped and won. He was a great leader for us. On the women's side, we had Kim Mulkey and Amber Bledsoe that were good seniors who we lost. I don't want to minimize what our seniors did, but basically the majority of the people who scored for us and went to the NCAA this past season are coming back.
Q & A with Joe Walker - part one
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