Lowe: Tiger Track Teams Preparing For Big Push

BATON ROUGE – This is a time when college track and field enthusiasts are glued to the television and the computer. It’s a time when casual track fans are also very interested.

by Kent Lowe | Sr. Assoc. Communications Director
Lowe: Tiger Track Teams Preparing For Big Push

BATON ROUGE – This is a time when college track and field enthusiasts are glued to the television and the computer. It’s a time when casual track fans are also very interested.

Coach Dennis Shaver’s LSU program is entering the most important time of every track season – SECs, the NCAA preliminaries and the NCAA championship meet. From Bryan-College Station to Jacksonville, Florida to Eugene, Oregon can be quite a haul.

Physically and mentally. 

That’s the journey some of LSU’s top track and field athletes and their coaching staff will be taking starting this week at the SEC Championships at Texas A&M. Then two weeks later it’s the NCAA opening rounds at Jacksonville. Two weeks later is the NCAA Championships in Eugene.

It can be a rewarding journey.  It can be mentally taxing as well. And then there is school to consider, but this year it is different. The spring semester is over and done with and that made planning a little different for Coach Shaver. 

“Well, I’m kind of a routine guy. I like seeing us be in the same type of routine throughout at least the SEC meet,” Shaver said. “This is the first year in all the years I’ve been at LSU that we have actually been finished (with school) prior to going to the SEC meet. I like to keep them in a routine. We did our best to try to keep them busy so that they are not taking too much time resting because that can be a problem too. Overall, we are having practices in the morning to try to make sure everyone is getting up and getting themselves going right off the bat. We are trying to make sure we are keeping them in some kind of routine during the day.”

It can be a period of highs and lows and somewhere coaches and athletes have to find the middle ground. 

“The biggest thing for the kids is as I tell them, you just have to kind of keep a check on your emotions,” the veteran track mentor said. “You can’t get too high, you can’t get too low because it is a long road. It can be a stressful time of the year but we preach to them it’s one race a day. You can’t focus on the big picture, you’ve got to focus on the next thing you are supposed to do, so that’s the challenge the kids have. 

“They’ve been doing a good job of preparing themselves. The coaches have done a good job of challenging them in certain situations during the regular season to prepare them for what the postseason is like. “

One thing that is different is that the NCAA competes by gender. One day the women compete, the men compete the next. That makes your rest and recovery period a lot shorter. The NCAA is just one long meet that just happens to take place in different venues. Track and field can be a very physical sport, but it can also be a mental challenge as well, especially in the NCAAs, but there are lessons that can be learned during the regular season meets. 

“The approach we’ve taken is so they clearly understand what’s expected of them for each of those rounds, because some rounds are more important than others for seeding purposes,” said the man who has directed LSU’s program since July 2004. “There are some events that it is really critical you get a good lane when you make the semifinal. There is a lot of that type of discussion that has been going on regarding that during the regular season. We’ve had some meets where the weather hasn’t been really nice. I preach to them that the weather is going to be the same for everybody when we get to Eugene or when we go to Jacksonville or to Texas A&M. 

“I think our kids have done a good job because we’ve had some of those meets where the weather conditions have been poor and they have done a good job representing us in those conditions.”

In the end, it all comes down to training and that’s not just a dirty word. Athletes can’t over train, but they can’t fall down on their workouts either. It’s a double-edged sword as things move forward.

“I think communications is a real key and I think our coaches all have a good relationship through coaching this year and previous years to get the kids to understand and communicate well with us so we aren’t doing too much,” said Coach Shaver. “But it is important to stay sharp during this time of the year but you’ve got to be careful and not do too much because when they are giving those kinds of intense efforts you are also increasing the chances of something going wrong like an injury. If someone is really tired we need to back off a little bit so the communication is the real key.”

One thing that all these athletes and coaches understand who were around in 2020 is that it wonderful to have championship events again. 

“When we got shut down last year at the NCAA indoor, it was really devastating because of how we were prepared (for that meet),” said Coach Shaver. “Basically, the same outdoor team we have this year would have been the same outdoor team we would have had last year. So, while we are going in with a high ranking this year, we would have gone in with a high ranking last year so unfortunately for our kids they are only going to get this shot one time.”

What also makes this coach happy is that 13 of his athletes graduated in this semester’s ceremony, including an NCAA champion and several SEC champs and All-Americans. 

“When you consider everything we have had to deal with this year with the pandemic, I couldn’t be prouder and give the credit to the kids because they’ve really stayed focused on their purpose here. To graduate as well as represent LSU on a high standard on the track, really just put those two things together and, it really is a tribute to their work ethic and ability as individual track athletes to stay focused on what they are really here to do.”

The Southeastern Conference meet displays the depth of programs and the LSU men are the defending outdoor champions from the last meet held in 2019. They could certainly be in the hunt again. Remember the SEC event is only a precursor to what is ahead. NCAA qualifiers will lead LSU to the NCAA meet and each good round will give LSU a better chance to win a national title, both for the individual and the team. 

It is a track fans time to enjoy. It is a coach and team members time to shine. We see the races and the field events and marvel at their performances. What we forget is the hard work and dedication all have put in to make what we see so exciting and successful for our Tigers. Remember that, as you watch them excel.