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May 8, 2002

USC is headed to Starkville, Mississippi this weekend for the nation’s top outdoor conference meet of the year – the Southeastern Conference Track and Field Championships.

The meet, which begins with the heptathlon and decathlon on Thursday, May 9, ends with the women’s 4x400m relay on Sunday, May 12.

USC will bring a full contingent of athletes, including its four nationally ranked relays.

USC’s women will look to defend the 4x100m and 4x400m relays they won in Columbia at the SEC meet last year. While Miki Barber is being redshirted due to injury this season, 400m runner-up Demetria Washington will led the squad in that race.

Returning defending individual champions include Otukile Lekote (men’s 800m), Chris Steddum (men’s pole vault) and Tacita Bass (women’s 400m hurdles).

USC will look to score big points in the men’s and women’s sprints and hurdles. Bass should start the women’s bid off with a bang, as she is ranked No. 1 in the conference in the heptathlon.

Coach Frye sees the women’s race as a three or four team race with Florida, LSU, South Carolina and Arkansas in the hunt for the title.

“Florida is the favorite and then LSU is the national champion indoors. Then ourselves and Arkansas are tight. Florida doesn’t do some things right, LSU should be the benefactor,” said Frye. “Head to head, we have to do some things right against LSU. A lot of those are head to head competitions: the 100m, 200m, the heptathlon. We have to do some thing to finish ahead of LSU. Florida has to have some things bad for either of us to have a chance to win because they have great depth. They have a number of good athletes in many events.

The three senior leaders are prepared. “They know what SECs are about. They won’t fold and they will do what they have to do,” said Frye. “We just don’t have enough depth to win the title. We are good in a number of events, but not enough depth. It’s going to be tough.”

Frye thinks the men’s race will be between Tennessee, Arkansas and LSU. Tennessee, who won the 2001 outdoor title and the 2002 indoor title at the NCAA Championships, will be looking to chase Arkansas, who won the indoor title. “That race isn’t clear. Arkansas has quite a bit of depth in the 800m, 1500m, 5000m and 10000m. They have some heavy hitting areas,” said Frye. “Tennessee has a number of areas they are strong in. It might come down to the end of the meet to find the winner – to the 200m and the 4x400m relay.”

“It’s not going to be a runaway meet,” said Frye. “There are some excellent athletes in this meet. LSU can benefit from those two teams fighting each other.”

“This is the last time you will see the SEC line up where people put all the marbles on the wall because of the regionals,” said Frye. “The Regional concept was passed this week and because of it, there will be less emphasis put on the conference meets.”

Can they, will they?
Tennessee, who pulled off the upset against Arkansas’ men last year in Columbia, will be looking to win its second straight outdoor title. The Arkansas women won the title last year.

USC finished third on the women’s side in 2002 and eighth on the men’s side. At the NCAA Championships in Oregon, the Gamecocks were fourth on the women’s side and 19th on the men’s side.

USC has a number of performances in 2002 in the world’s top 20. The women’s 4x400m relay is No. 2 in the world in 2002, while the men’s 4x400m relay sits at No. 5.

Individually, Tacita Bass is No. 7 in the heptathlon; Lashinda Demus is No. 8 and Tiffany Ross is No. 14 in the 400m hurdles; Demetria Washington is No. 10 in the 400m; Aleen Bailey is No. 12 in the 100m and No. 5 in the 200m and finally, Otukile Lekote is No. 8 in the 800m.

The USC women placed 12 on the SEC Academic Honor Roll, while the men placed nine.