By Jim Fryar
Globe Sports Writer
NEOSHO, Mo. —
There are plenty of reasons for the Missouri Southern women’s track and field team to be making excuses.
Injuries have taken an enormous toll on the Lions.
Instead, the Southern squad is lining up to give its best performance in the MIAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. It’s obvious that coach Patty Vavra likes the grit her athletes have shown.
“We’re as healthy as we’ve been all year,” Vavra said of the meet, which started Friday with the men’s decathlon and women’s heptathlon.
Individual competition begins today, with most of the final events scheduled on Sunday.
“Our home meet (last Friday) was definitely our best performance, with lots of career and persons bests. I think we’re coming around and peaking at the right time.
“This group, as they showed during the indoor season, likes to compete. A lot of team pride is on the line and that seems to bring out the best in these young ladies.”
Southern returns 10 athletes who scored in individual events during the 2010-11 conference meet. Three of them are sidelined with injuries — distance runners Marlee Tegenkamp (Lee’s Summit, Mo.) and Maggie Tennal (Lamar) and thrower Kylie Cornman (Mountain View).
Sophomore sprinter Jasmin Hughes (Hartville), fourth in the 200-meter dash and sixth in the 100 in the last MIAA outdoor meet, has been battling a hip injury which prevents her from getting a good start out of the blocks. Hughes has the best time in the conference in the 200, but hasn’t approached last year’s mark in the 100, where the start is more crucial.
Freshman Amber White (Cuba, Mo.) has developed into one of the MIAA’s premier triple jumpers, but hasn’t been able to train in the 400, another strong area.
Many of the Lions’ distance runners are sidelined with various injuries, leaving sophomore Rachel Schrader (Bolivar) in the 1500, redshirt freshman Codi Fritchie (Lee’s Summit North) in the steeplechase and freshman Lauren Sanders (Owasso, Okla.) in the 800 and sophomore transfers Kaitlyn Belisle and Cassy Kendrick in the 5 and 10K races.
Belisle and Kendrick both previously attended Cowley County Community College.
Seniors Nicole Green (Carthage) and Lisa Vengels (Dixon), both All-Americans, provide the leadership for the Lions. They are ranked second in the MIAA in the shot put and high jump, respectively.
Green will also throw the discus and Vengels is entered in the high hurdles and the heptathlon.
The Lions also return senior Gayla Booth (Anderson), eighth in the high jump last year; junior JeAnna Sheppard (Bentonville, Ark.), seventh in the 100 hurdles, and sophomore Sydney Haase (Holt, Mo.), fourth in the pole vault.
Vavra would love to see the Lions match their performance at the indoor conference championships in the pole vault, not only for the points (29) but for the emotional boost.
Southern finished 1-2-3-4 in that meet, with sophomore Vanessa Langford (Bronaugh) and freshmen Melanie Bower (the winner, from Linn, Mo.) and Ashleigh McFarland (Rio Vista, Texas).
Langford is the top-ranked MIAA vaulter after clearing 12 feet, 1 inch. Fritchie and Schrader are ranked third in their events.
Vavra believes Central Missouri has an edge over defending champion Lincoln in the team race.
Lincoln is ranked third nationally in NCAA Division II and Central Missouri is fifth. Pittsburg State is third among MIAA teams in the national poll at No. 25, three places in front of Missouri Southern. Northwest Missouri, Fort Hays and Emporia State are all among the top 41.
“There are some great quality performers in the conference this year, as always,” Vavra said, mentioning the 100 hurdles and the long and triple jumps as events with exceptional depth.
Southern sophomore Lindsey Bragg, who attended East Newton High School, is ranked only in a tie for seventh in the MIAA with an outstanding long jump of 18-9.