By Jim Fryar
Globe Sports Writer
Tom Rutledge likes the situation his men’s track and field team faces in the MIAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
“It’s a win-win situation,” Rutledge said of the youthful Lions, who do not have a senior on the roster.
“We’re young, we’re learning and we still have a chance to contend. We’re not going to come out of it bad and they (Lion athletes) have a chance to learn (for future competition).”
The meet started Friday at Emporia State with the opening round of action in the men’s decathlon and women’s heptathlon. Individual competition begins today and concludes Sunday.
Missouri Southern is ranked fourth in the MIAA and No. 16 in the nation in a team point system developed for NCAA Division II schools. The Lions have 10 nationally ranked individual performances.
Chief Southern rival Pittsburg State is the “kingpin” for the weekend meet, Rutledge said.
The Gorillas are ranked sixth in the nation in team points, followed by Lincoln at No. 8 and Central Missouri, the defending conference champion, at No. 9.
“We have as much balance as anybody,” Rutledge said.
“We’re going to do the best we can. We were third (in the conference) in cross country, then second in indoor track. There’s only one number left in that equation.”
Pittsburg State won a tight three-team battle for second place in last year’s conference meet, edging Lincoln and Emporia State. The Gorillas return great depth in the throws, the long and triple jump and the pole vault.
Newcomers Jeffrey Fraley and Dustin Green have made an immediate impact on Southern’s conference ranking.
Fraley, a freshman from Waynesville, is ranked first in the MIAA in the 200-meter dash and second in the 100. Green, a junior who transferred from Neosho County Community College, is ranked second in the conference in the discus and third in both the shot put and hammer.
Junior Seth Hackney (Carl Junction) ranks second in the MIAA in the shot.
One of the key veterans is sophomore sprinter-jumper Clark Tanksley (McCluer High School in St. Louis). Tanksley scored in four conference events as a freshman. He is ranked second in the MIAA in the high jump and will also long jump, run the 200 and 400 dashes and legs on both the 4x100 and 4x400 relays.
The triple jump has developed into a Southern strength, with freshman Darion Boure (University City High School in St. Louis) tied for third in the league rankings, junior Taylor McClelland (Washington, Mo.) fifth and freshman Jayce Thomas (Blue Springs) sixth.
Two areas of traditional Southern strength are the pole vault and the distance races. This spring, these are key areas where the Lions need to maintain past standards.
Juniors John Lowe (West Plains) and Michael Juergens (St. Clair, Mo.) are tied for third in the MIAA pole vault rankings and sophomore Raymond Woldtvedt (Cape Girardeau Central) is seventh. But inconsistency has been a problem.
Lowe was third in the conference last spring.
Sophomore Jacob Benton (Fort Zumwalt North in Wentzville) and freshman Eric Schott (Cape Girardeau Central) give Southern the 2-3 ranked runners at 10,000 meters. Benton placed in both the 5 and 10K races as a freshman.
Rutledge has entered virtually the entire cross country team in the 5K, the penultimate race of the conference meet.
“Our distance runners are going to have to fight for it,” Rutledge said.