Returning Athletes Look to Bolster Track and Field at SEMO.
March 31, 2011
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The University of Memphis track and field teams will return most of a full squad to this weekend’s Joey Haines Invitational, hosted by Southeast Missouri, in Cape Girardeau. The two-day event will begin Friday, at 10 a.m., and continuing all day Saturday.
“This is the only team-scored meet we will have before the conference championships,” said head coach Kevin Robinson. “While it will be a successful meet if we just go out and have a strong meet and improve our marks across the board, we’d still like to be in position to win if we can.”
This weekend will mark the return of All-American pole vaulter Karlis Pujats to the Memphis squad. Pujats, a junior from Riga, Latvia, was held out of the Tigers first two outdoor meets to get some rest following the NCAA Indoor Championships, March 15.
With the current Conference USA-leading men’s pole vault mark standing at 5.10m (16’ 8.75”), Pujats could assume the lead in his first outdoor event in 2011 if he’s on form this weekend.
“It may take a couple of weeks for Karlis to get back on form,” conceded Robinson. “But at the same time, if he’s on, there’s no reason to think he won’t leave the weekend with the best mark in the conference.”
He will join a men’s team already making noise on the national scene, even without Pujats and fellow All-American Knut Syversen. Sophomore Savvas Arestis has been a strong thrower in the early going, already climbing to 18th in the nation in the discus with his 54.46m (178’ 8”) toss two weeks ago at the Rhodes Open, a mark that makes Arestis eighth in the East.
Freshman Elijah Mahaley is already on the map in the shot put, with his 16.40m (53’ 9.75”) mark in Baton Rouge putting him at 31st in the East region. Nationally, Mahaley is the fifth-best among freshmen shot putters.
“Eli is about to do some special things,” said Robinson. “Over the last couple of weeks, he’s really turned the corner in training and is learning how to compete on the national level.”
Sophomore transfer Casey Carl (javelin) and sophomore thrower Andrew Miller (shot put and discus) are on the fringe of being East Region qualifiers in their events; the rate at which they improve over the coming weeks will determine if they can move up the way Coach Robinson believes they are capable of.
On the track, the men’s team is being led by the hurdlers. Junior Robert Jackson is primed for a return to the NCAA Outdoor Championships; currently, he stands 14th in the nation in the 110m hurdles, with a 14.02 mark. That also makes him fifth in the East Region.
Jackson and Arestis are the only two Tigers who currently lead C-USA in their respective disciplines.
“That hurdles group has been huge for us early in the season,” said Robinson. “A deep, veteran group like that has been a plus, especially in the 400-meter; it would come as no surprise to me if Lowe, Harold, (junior) Alex Sweet and (freshman) Brandon Williams each made the regional this year.”
Freshman Jaz Davis is third in C-USA in the 100m dash at 10.92, less than three-tenths of a second away from being the top mark in the conference.
The men’s 4x400m-relay team of Harold, Lowe, Davis and Williams would qualify for the NCAA East Regional if the season ended today, but at 32nd in the region (3:15.25) there is room for improvement in the coming weeks.
With the return of several notable athletes with national-meet familiarity, the Tiger women’s squad can be contenders at the Tigers lone team-scored meet before the Conference USA championships in May. Senior LaShundra Kershaw is currently 36th regionally in the 100m dash, with an 11.85 mark; Kershaw was a Regional qualifier in the 100- and 200m dashes in 2010 and has her eyes set on Wanda Hooker’s 23-year old school record of 11.40.
Memphis senior Tayanna Simpson is another with a strong chance to continue on into the Regionals this year; her 13.95 100m hurdle mark is tied for 32nd in the region, and her school-record 1:00.95 400m hurdle mark is 24th in the East (39th nationally).
Simpson’s 400m hurdle mark is just over a second behind UCF’s Jackie Coward for first in C-USA.
“Tayanna will get under one minute in the 400 hurdles soon enough,” predicted Robinson. “Nobody’s better in the first 350 meters of a race. She just has to finish out that last 50.”
Sophomore high jumper Kirsten Berding is tied for 15th in the region after her 1.72m (5’ 7.75”) mark at the LSU Relays. That mark ties her for 28th in the country.
Of the top 30 high jump marks in the country six, including Berding’s, belong to Conference USA athletes.
Junior thrower Marina Vojinovic and her personal-best 15.41m (50’ 6.75”) toss at the LSU Relays are ninth in the East and 19th in the nation. Freshman Britta Jaarats is also a fringe contender to qualify for the regionals, currently at 42nd with a 14.04m (46’ 0.75”) mark.
Following this weekend, the Tigers will head to Oxford for the Ole Miss Invite, a one-day meet that will be held Saturday, April 9.