Indoor track season opens Saturday for a small group of owls
Even with only a handful of athletes training Monday, University of Mississippi women’s track and field coach Dedrick Burnett was busy multitasking.
To his left, Burnett was discussing long jump technique with junior Jacob Vickers. Turning to his right, he was in shot put form with junior Jessica Hill.
Meanwhile, others were on the track at the Columbus High School Sports Complex, where the Owls train and work.
The cold weather forced most athletes to perform their routines in sweatshirts. Not Vickers, who not only considered the T-shirt weather but was apparently more bothered by the sand in the landing pit than the cold, occasionally stopping to shake the sand off his SpongeBob T-shirt. .
Everyone felt the cold, but the training continued with the indoor season starting this weekend with the Vulcan Invitational hosted by UAB in Birmingham, Alabama.
“We’ve had this encounter for the past two years,” Burnett said. “A lot of Division I schools, so basically we go there to race against time. We take our first meeting as the starting point of the season and try to build on that.
With a conference to still attend in the future, the clock is the Owls’ only competition, although there is the United States Collegiate Athletic Association’s national invite in the spring. And the owls are pointing in that direction.
“I want to go to our national championship meet and get in the top three in the 400m hurdles,” said sophomore Kaitlyn McCree, who holds five indoor and four outdoor records for the youth program.
“I run the 400 hurdles, the 400 meters, the 800 meters, sometimes the 200…basically whatever I get,” McCree said. “I do the long jump and the javelin.
“I’m more comfortable in the 400m hurdles. I have time to catch up. You have to be fast, but it’s not like you’re fast.
McCree’s versatility comes in handy on the Owls’ small roster. Burnett said he has 12 women and five men in the squad, and with some under COVID protocols only 10 are expected to make the trip to Birmingham.
“I have a good group of sprinters on the women’s side, and on the men’s side we have a lot of distance runners,” he said.
Tavonta Macon, of Columbus High School, is one of the members of this small male track list for The W.
“I ran it all,” Macon said of his days with the Falcons. “I ran all the relays and ran open events: 400, 200, 800.”
But his best event now is the 400 metres.
“This year I’m trying to go under 50 (seconds),” he said. For comparison, only four men on the Mississippi State track team beat that time last spring, and that would shatter The W.
Macon, recently returned from a minor injury – “I was using my leg too much”, he says – expects to run the 400, 800 and maybe the 200 in Birmingham.
“I feel good and I’m ready for Saturday’s competition,” said Macon. “It will be my first time racing on an indoor track. Also, I haven’t raced on the track since 2018.”
Macon has spent the past two years in East Mississippi, which does not have a track program.
“My coach in high school was a cop who ran for The W in cross country,” Macon said. “He put me in touch with the coach.”
McCree heard about the Owls program the same way.
“I went to Wayne Academy, and one of my old high school track coaches told me about The W,” she said. “Then (Burnett) found me online.”
Word of mouth is important for a program that doesn’t have high visibility among Mississippi high school athletes.
“They don’t know at all,” Burnett said. “We’re relatively new, so a lot of kids don’t know we have a track team.”
“I didn’t even know the W existed,” said McCree, who grew up about three hours south of Columbus.
Filling an assistant coaching position will help recruit and spread the word, Burnett said, but for now, there’s some business to be done with the athletes he has.
“A lot of them are chasing after school records, some are just chasing personal bests,” Burnett said, adding that only three on the current roster have experience with the Owls. Getting more body into the program is obviously a priority.
“Hopefully we’ll have enough people to run more relays,” said Macon, who hopes to become a teacher and coach as well as, possibly, a firefighter.
Teacher and coach was McCree’s plan once; now she is studying kinesiology with aspirations of being an athletic trainer.
But the immediate future begins Saturday, with an indoor season that runs through February before the Athletics move outdoors beginning with the Mississippi College opener on March 5.
But the bigger picture is never far from their minds, no matter how the national meet, scheduled for April 30 in Albany, New York, may seem like a lonely track on a high school football field. on a cold January afternoon.
As Macon said, “I’m trying to get to nationals and help my team get there too.”