Texas women heavy favorites at NCAA track event
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- An injury to sprint star Marshavet Hooker has only slightly diminished the Texas women's status as a heavy favorite to defend their NCAA track and field title this week.
The men's team race is much less clear, with Florida State and UTEP on paper, at least, the top contenders.
But as Southern California coach Ron Allice said at a pre-meet news conference Tuesday, "Anyone who's been through this meet knows that anything can happen and will happen."
The four-day competition begins Wednesday at Sacramento State, site of the 2000 and 2004 Olympic trials.
A hamstring injury will keep Hooker from attempting to win a second consecutive 100-meter title. Instead, she will be limited to the long jump and perhaps the 400-meter relay. But coach Bev Kearney's Longhorns are steeped with talent, including Hooker's freshman sister, Destinee, a favorite in the high jump.
"Personally, I don't think of us as a heavy favorite," Kearney said. "You have to respect the caliber of the competition and you have to respect the magnitude of the NCAA national championship. We're just trying to maximize our earning potential, so to speak, just focusing on that."
The three-year NCAA reign of the Arkansas men probably will come to an end, with Texas and LSU expected to challenge Florida State and UTEP in the team race. That leaves the Razorbacks an extreme longshot.
"It's all about opportunities," said UTEP coach Bob Kitchens, whose team is almost entirely made up of foreign athletes. "What we have here is an opportunity to do something. The team that has the best meet is going to win. It's very simple."
The NCAA has produced some great track stars who turned pro before using up their college eligibility -- Olympic and world 400 champion Jeremy Wariner, world 100 champion Lauryn Williams, and world 400 runner-up Sanya Richards. All would still be eligible.
But that doesn't mean there's a shortage of talent at the NCAA level.
One of those who stayed in school is USC senior Virginia Powell, the defending NCAA 100-meter hurdle champion who hasn't lost a race indoors or outdoors this year. She shares the collegiate record in the event with Gail Devers at 12.61 seconds.
Powell goes against longtime rival Canadian Priscilla Lopes, running for Nebraska.
Powell has the world's fastest time this year, 12.61 at high altitude at the regionals two weeks ago in Provo, Utah. Lopes ran a 12.63 in Waco, Texas, on May 14, tied for second-fastest in the world this year with American Michelle Perry.
One of the early stars this week should be Trey Hardee of Texas, who begins defense of his NCAA decathlon title Wednesday. Hardee set a collegiate record with 8,465 points at the Texas Relays April 5-6. Only world champion Bryan Clay's 8,677 points at the prestigious Goetzis, Austria, meet May 27-28 is better this year.
The men's team battle could hinge on the sprints, where Florida State's Walter Dix, who won the NCAA 100 title last year as a freshman, goes against UTEP's 21-year-old freshman Churandy Martina from The Netherlands Antilles. Martina has the field's fastest time this year, 10.04, but that was run at high altitude in El Paso on April 15. Dix's best this season is 10.12 in the first heat of the regionals two weekends ago in Greensboro, N.C.
Another 100 contender is Xavier Carter of LSU, who is attempting an unusual 100-400 double. He is a favorite in the longer distance.
The meet features several offspring of former track stars, including Michelle Carter of Texas, the NCAA indoor shot put champion, and Dominique Darden of Miami in the 400 hurdles. Carter's father, Michael, threw the shot for SMU and was a three-time Pro Bowl nose tackle for the NFL's San Francisco 49ers. Darden's dad, Tony, was a top 400 runner at Arizona State.
"When I was young," Dominique joked, "I thought I was at the beach, but it was really the long jump pit."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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