February 26, 2010 7:56:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State University women''s track team will try this weekend to cap a stellar indoor season with a pair of league titles at the Southeastern Conference Indoor Championships.
Returning to the Randall Tyson Track Complex in Fayetteville, Ark., the Lady Bulldogs hope the results they turned in two weeks ago at the Tyson Invitational -- two school records and five all-time performances -- carry over.
MSU''s top performers of the indoor season and last year''s solid outdoor squad, jumper Wendy Copeland and pentathlete/sprinter/hurdler Laquinta Aaron, weren''t the headliners at the Tyson Invitational, as sophomore thrower Favian Cowards set a school record in the 20-pound weight throw with a mark of 59 feet, 1 1/2 inches.
Without two regular starters for the 4x400-meter relay, Keisha Wallace, Aaron, Taneisha Baker, and Brittany Covington a set a new school mark with a time of 3 minutes, 43.44 seconds.
MSU coach Al Schmidt lauded the efforts of the 4x400 group powered by freshmen Wallace and Covington, but today the Lady Bulldogs'' two top seniors will have the spotlight and will be focused on winning SEC titles.
Schmidt believes the 4x400 team has a solid shot to medal with the return of senior Chrystal Wilson and freshman Jodi-Ann Muir.
Aaron and Copeland will look to clinch indoor titles in the pentathlon and long jump, respectively. Copeland is ranked second in the SEC and seventh in the country in the long jump (6.33 meters). She has qualified for NCAA Indoor Championships.
Aaron hopes to better her fourth-place finish at last year''s championship meet.
Schmidt is eager to see Aaron and Copeland head into outdoor season with momentum. The Lady Bulldogs get started at 1:30 p.m. today when Aaron competes in the pentathlon.
"That will set the tone for us," Schmidt said. "We''re looking for big things from LaQuinta and Wendy. These are couple of older girls that are ranked up there in the country."
Copeland, who also will compete in the triple jump, will see her toughest competition in the long jump come from Florida''s Shara Proctor, who is ranked No. 2 in the country. Alabama''s Chelsea Taylor is the league''s highest-ranked pentathlete outside of Aaron.
With young runners like Wallace, Covington, and Muir, Schmidt hopes the pageantry of the weekend won''t affect the team''s form.
"This is the biggest conference meet in the country, so it''s tough on the younger ones," Schmidt said. "We got some newcomers who are talented, but you never know with your first SEC meet. You got to be patient and not overwhelm you."
MSU''s men will get the weekend off, but two Bulldogs will take to the Rocky Mountains for a shot at a world championship.
Freshman sprinter Tavaris Tate and sophomore sprinter DeAngelo Cherry will compete at the USA Track & Field Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, N.M.
Starkville native Tate will attempt to earn a spot on the U.S. National Team, Schmidt said. Cherry took second at last year''s event that featured several Olympians. He also set a national junior record in the 60 sprint (6.52 seconds).
Cherry will compete in the 60 sprint and Tate will compete in the 400, with a chance for a spot on the U.S. National 4x400 team in Qatar. Tate has the leading 400 time in the country (45.80).
ESPN2 will broadcast the finals at 6 p.m. Sunday.
Macdonald implements new style
In an effort to generate more goals, women''s soccer coach Neil Macdonald is trying to add another dimension to his team''s play ahead of the spring opener against the University of Mississippi on March 31.
Finding the back of the net proved difficult last season and in 2008, and Macdonald believes the team''s best option to create more in the final third is to widen the field.
"We were fairly direct in the fall, and we''re looking at more possession and creating a lot of width," Macdonald said. "We have six very talented midfielders and we''re fortunate to have rotation. They''re moving on the ball and making runs. We''re really trying to focus on holding our widths in the front three as a very important concept. We played (last year) with two of our strikers tucked in, and we''re focused on width this spring."
The change in approach will put a premium on handling and possession in midfield, but Macdonald said the team''s back four will benefit from the possession-keyed system with less ball handling and, he hopes, less defending -- if all three waves are linking and forwards are helping defend.
Macdonald said the players are adjusting through their four team practices each week, but he admits the team isn''t quite ready to use the new system for an entire season.
"It''s an experiment and we''re really seeing if we can do it," Macdonald said. "Our tough schedule in the spring will determine that. It''s hopefully something we will see in the fall."
On the injury front, goalkeeper Skylar Rosson will be out for two weeks as she continues to return from surgery to repair an anterior cruciate ligament. Defender Mary Clare Scurria hopes to return from back surgery in three weeks, while midfielder Lauren Morgan will be on the shelf for two weeks to rest a torn ligament in her leg. Macdonald hopes Morgan will get better with rest and won''t need surgery.
Volleyball amps up team competition
With just nine players going through spring workouts, Jenny Hazelwood wanted to try something new as she prepares for her second season at MSU.
She turned to MSU football coach Dan Mullen for a system that splits players into groups and has them compete against each other in the offseason. On-court performance, weight training, school work, community service -- every aspect of a student athlete''s daily life earns points, and, in the process, creates a year-round competitive atmosphere within the team.
"I met with Dan, and basically the idea is everything you do has an impact on the program," Hazelwood said. "It''s important because we really don''t have the numbers to have the kind of on-court competition we''d normally have. Then, the girls here realize we''ve got freshmen coming in and they''ve got to utilize this time because competition will be even greater and we''ll really see the position battles when the fall comes."
The Bulldogs start extended team practices Wednesday and will be allowed to work on the court 20 hours a week.
Hazelwood and her staff have been busy on the recruiting trail in the past two weeks, and the second-year MSU coach is ready to get back to the court. She is excited about the work strength and conditioning coach Richard Akins has done with the team.
"You can see them jumping higher and hitting balls harder," Hazelwood said. "They can see the improvement, too, and they''re itching to get back in the gym. It''s great to see."
MSU''s low numbers for the spring is due to three players from the 2009 team opting not to return for 2010. Senior defensive specialist Kaitlin Wheatley will focus on school, while junior defensive specialist Leanna King has left the team but is still in school, Hazelwood said.
Hillary Hunt, who has battled injuries for most of her time as a Bulldog, is seeking a medical hardship.
1. Columbus Speedway ready to race again LOCAL SPORTS
2. Starkville Academy soccer beats Heritage Academy to reach state final HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
4. MSU baseball looks to bounce back COLLEGE SPORTS
5. Notebook: MSU falls to Kentucky in overtime COLLEGE SPORTS