Spartans Head South and Think Straight before Regionals

Classes have been out for a month, but Michigan State track and field is still hard at work.

The team has been in Jacksonville, Fla. for the past week, preparing for the NCAA Eastern Regional meet that will take place this weekend.

Skilled thrower Antonio James does not put it lightly when asked what it takes to do well in this meet.

“I feel like it’s about survival. Just surviving Regionals,” James said.

For some of the athletes, the meet is a familiar scene, but that does not go without significance. Some of MSU’s best are looking to punch their ticket to the NCAA Nationals by qualifying in the top-48 of their event.

To qualify for this meet, the athletes had to mark a qualifying performance in their event between March 1 and May 18. For some athletes, they have known for a while they would be in Jacksonville this weekend. For some, they just made it in.

Pole vaulter and newcomer to the regional meet, Lauren Chorny jumped to a gold medal and qualifying mark at the Big Ten Outdoor Championship just two weekends ago.

Distance runner and steeplechaser Leah O’Connor has been a top athlete in the steeplechase all season, but says there is still room to improve.

“I think at Big Ten’s the steeple was a little bit more too relaxed than it needed to be, in terms of preparing me for Nationals,” O’Connor said. “So at Regionals, I’m really just going to try to run the heck out of the last 1,000 meters and be very disciplined late in the race.”

O’Connor is not the only one planning to save her energy for the end. She says the whole team is trying to have strong finishes.

Decathlon athlete Kurt Schneider is the only one on the team who already has a spot at Nationals. Because of the intensity of the event, decathlon athletes skip the Regional meet.

But that does not mean he is taking a vacation in Florida. He is also looking to qualify for Nationals in the high jump.

“I obviously still want to be focused on qualifying for Nationals in the open high jump,” Schneider said. “But obviously it still needs to be a priority that I’m getting myself ready for Nationals in the decathlon.”

With the athletes in Florida for a week before the meet, it gives them a chance to get used to the environment and schedule. Now without the stress of school on their minds, head coach Walt Drenth says it gives them more chances to focus on their event. Drenth says there is also room for things to go wrong.

“They have an opportunity, because they’re not in class now, to take a little more attention to details,” Drenth said. “And a lot of it will depend on how we are when we get to Florida. In the heat, in the hotel bed for a week. Those things can take a toll if you haven’t paid attention to details throughout the course of the year.”

His advice to the athletes is simple: “get rest,” and “be yourself.”

The team is looking towards the leadership of athletes like James, O’Connor, Schneider and Tori Franklin who have all competed at a meet of this nature.

Even if there are pre-race jitters, Schneider believes they are all keeping them down and staying focused.

“I would say it’s more so nervous excitement. Everyone’s focused and on task,” Schneider said. “We know why we’re here.”

The NCAA East Regional Championship will be held in Jacksonville, Fla. on May 29-31. The Spartans will be represented in 22 events with a total of 19 women and 10 Spartan men competing.

Listen below as James, Schneider and Drenth give an insight on this weekend’s meet and also goals that they are still looking to reach.

Alexa McCarthy is the host of Last Leg for Impact Sports.

Photos: Alexa McCarthy/Impact Sports