Bulldogs hosts first track meet in four years
Mississippi State head track coach Steve Dudley, middle, and assistant coach Houston Franks, right, oversee final preparations for the SEC-Big 10 Challenge at the Carl Maddox Track facility on Friday. (Photo by Danny P. Smith, SDN)
Christmas has come in March for members of the Mississippi State track and field team.
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The Carl Maddox Track facility, the home venue of the Bulldogs, has been renovated and is ready for competition.
Mississippi State serves as the host school for the SEC-Big 10 Challenge today in Starkville.
The Bulldogs are proud of their new home and look forward to hosting their first meet in four years.
"We're looking forward to our fans be able to actually come out and watch us perform," MSU track coach Steve Dudley said. "The kids are extremely excited.
"It's been tough being on the road the last four years and getting back at 1 in the morning on Sunday. It created a lot of wear and tear."
Sprinter O'Neal Wilder was balancing the sports of track and football the last time the Bulldogs hosted a meet. He remembers having to rush from the spring football game to the track meet and not having very much fun.
Now that he's concentrating solely on track, Wilder expects it to be different.
"I'm really looking forward to this track meet," Wilder said. "The people who wanted to see us run, finally get to see us run, see what we can do and how successful we are."
Dudley and Al Schmidt, the MSU director of track and field, expect around 200 alumni to be in town to see the action. Field events start at 9 a.m., while the running events are expected to take place from 1 p.m.-6 p.m. Admission is free.
Even with rain in the forecast, the Bulldogs are expecting a good turnout.
"We have a chance to have more people at this meet than we've ever had," Dudley said. "We're excited about that."
The lanes have been expanded and widened at the home track, but the most noticeable change will be something most fans won't see and that's a faster surface.
Once the MSU athletes were allowed to test it, they didn't have to be asked twice.
"I love it," said sprinter and Starkville native Tavaris Tate. "Everyday I go to practice I'm ready to touch it and ready to run fast."
Women's sprinter Jody-Ann Muir called the new surface "bouncy" and made everyone excited and ready for practice.
It's the first time most of the Lady Bulldogs will get to run in front of a home crowd and Muir said they have something to prove.
"It's time to prove what we've got with a new track and fast track," Muir said. "We've just got to prove ourselves and prove that we are Mississippi State. We have talent and we are going to show it."
In the rankings released this week, the MSU men came in with a No. 8 ranking.
The Bulldogs are anxious to show that they are deserving of even a higher mark and Tate believes the team has the depth available to make that happen.
"Last year, we really didn't have any depth," Tate said. "It was all for one and everybody had to look out for everybody. This year, we've got enough people to be able to score, qualify for different races and still focus on the individual. We have many talented freshmen."
Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia and Auburn will join Ohio State, Indiana, Purdue and Illinois for the SEC-Big 10 Challenge.
The concept of the event between the two major conferences was organized by Schmidt. Two years ago when the Bulldogs were competing at the NCAA Mideast Regional, a relationship began between MSU and several Big 10 schools.
"They have a tradition of having well-rounded track programs in the Big 10," Schmidt said.
Schmidt knew he wanted to get the Big 10 involved in an event hosted by the Bulldogs. Ohio State and Purdue responded immediately, but the Carl Maddox facility still wasn't completed. While the work continued, Schmidt came up with the concept of bringing four SEC and four Big 10 schools together for a meaningful outdoor event in the early spring.
"We wanted something different and unique," Schmidt said. "We wanted to bring in football powers and teams people would relate to."
Dudley said those who choose to attend the meet will be able to watch some of the most talented athletes in the country.
"If you come out and watch every event, you're probably going to see a talent that you'll be watching in the Olympics one day," Dudley said.
The international scoring system will be recognized at the Challenge, which will crown a men's and women's champion. First place will be awarded 10 points, second eight points, third six points, fourth five points, fifth four points, sixth three points, seventh two points and eighth one point. The points will be pooled together to the appropriate conference to determine the winners.
The MSU athletes look forward to the test and measuring themselves with some of the nation's best.
"The more competition you get, the better," Muir said. "We're up for the challenge."
Again, the best thing about it for the Bulldogs is all of the action is being held in a facility right in their own backyard.
"It's something I can actually call home and it's right behind my dorm," sprinter and jumper James Harris said.