In this year’s COVID-shortened cross country schedule, teams also face a disjointed postseason in hopes of reaching the NCAA Championships which have been moved to next March.
Schools such as LSU had the opportunity of trying to maintain a cross country regime in preparations for the March 15 meet, while also competing in the indoor track season.
Second-year LSU cross country coach Houston Franks said instead of trying to simultaneously juggle both sports that Friday’s Southeastern Conference Championships, hosted at the University Club, will represent the end of the 2020 season for his teams which won’t be able to compete in regional competition which the NCAA has previously cancelled.
“Some schools are going to run cross country at same time as indoor track,” Franks said. “Some will choose one or the other or flip-flop back and forth. For us cross country is ending on Friday and getting ready for (indoor) track season.”
With LSU hosting the SEC meet for the fourth time and first since 2006, Franks hopes strong performances from his teams will serve as a springboard into not only the indoor season, but outdoor campaign as well.
LSU will try and accomplish that feat against a difficult field where Arkansas’ top-ranked women have won the last seven SEC championships and 20 overall. No. 19 Ole Miss’ men have captured the last two SEC titles, stopping a stretch of eight straight for No. 3 Arkansas, a 25-time winner of the event.
The meet begins with the women’s 6K race at 9:05 a.m. followed by the men’s 8K at 10 a.m. with the SEC Network televising the event.
The best finish for LSU’s women was fourth in 1999. The last time the Tigers finished in single digits was 1999 with a fourth-place showing, a place Franks believes his team is capable of obtaining.
“I think single digits is a good possibility and how high that is I’m not sure,” he said. “There’s a logjam in the middle for the women. Arkansas is the defending national champion and after that, Ole Miss and Tennessee look good.”
LSU’s women are expected to be paced by redshirt sophomore Julia Palin, junior Katy-Ann McDonald and senior Alicia Stamey who’ve enjoyed a consistent fall to this point.
With McDonald out of the SEC Preview meet, hosted at the U-Club, Palin was 16th in the 5K race (17 minutes, 51.7 seconds) with Stamey in 19th (18:01.5).
McDonald, who was 17th in the SEC Championships a year ago, returned to competition at the Florida State Invitational where she was second (17:36.40) and Stamey fifth (17:55.80).
Franks is also looking for contributions from sophomore Adele Broussard, redshirt freshman Shanya Luna along with true freshmen Shelby Spoor and Molly Canham and Ashley Lajocies.
“We’re still a little young,” Franks said. “We have Julia and Katy-Ann with experience and help with that. I’m excited.”
It’s been 31 years since LSU’s men enjoyed its highwater mark of a runners-up performance at the SEC meet. Last year’s eight-place showing represented the best finish since 2007.
“Eighth is not something we’re going to jump for joy around here,” he said. “It’s a good starting spot in the first year. We’re a much better team than we were last year. We want to improve on that finish.”
Sophomore Davis Bove has been the team’s highest finisher in all three of LSU’s meets, including 10th at the five-team SEC Preview meet (17:52.9), sixth at the FSU Invitational (24:32.50) and third at Texas A&M’s Arturo Barrios Invite (23:59.80).
Senior Eric Coston, the team’s highest finisher at last year’s SEC meet (20th, 23:29.9), was 12th at the FSU Invite (24:47.0) and eighth at Texas A&M (24:12.20), while sophomore Jackson Martingayle enjoyed a solid fall campaign two a pair of Top 20 finishes at the SEC Preview Meet (18:28.3) and Texas A&M (24.41.30).
LSU’s nine-man lineup will also consist of redshirt freshman Adam Wise, sophomore Cade Martin, freshman Will Dart, sophomore Marshall Buhler, junior Garrett Hamilton and junior Blake Baldassaro.
“We’re in the conversation,” Franks said. “It’s going to be a fun meet. I think the difference in finishing fourth or fifth and 10th is going to be a matter of just a few points and who executes the best that day.”