The Clemson women’s track team, which was picked in the preseason as the top-ranked team in the country, held fast to the No. 1 spot through the first few weeks of the indoor season.
In the run-up to the Armory Collegiate Invitational in New York – a prestigious meet that features a number of highly-ranked teams, and which the Tigers won last year – Clemson was still leading a closely bunched group in the national top-five. Second-place Kansas trailed by just over five points, and was followed respectively by (three-time defending NCAA Champion) Oregon, Arkansas, and LSU.
Shawn Cobey – the Tigers’ interim Director of Track & Field – noted that the preseason ranking was based exclusively on returning athletes and their previous performances. Significantly, the Tigers were able to hold onto that ranking once the performances of newcomers had begun to be factored-in.
“The strength in the national rankings comes from better performances this year than last year with our kids who are returning,” Cobey explained. “Also, on the preseason rankings, your freshmen aren’t calculated in. So as the freshmen start competing, and their performances get ranked, it either adds to your team, or takes away from your team.
“So the preseason is really based on your returning previous best, and as the season gets going, as you better those, you actually get more points. Right now our women’s team and our men’s team have come off those first two weeks, and the freshmen have started to step-up into the positions we thought they would, and the performances have been really good.”
For the women, freshman Mimieux Land is a good example in that she’s already nationally-ranked in both the high jump and the long jump.
“Mimi Land is one who’s already exceeded what we thought she would be doing, coming in as a freshman, especially this early in the season,” said Cobey. “That’s really where the increase in the points in the national rankings comes from.”
Early contributions from veterans that were key to solidifying the team’s national ranking included Brianna Rollins’ NCAA record-breaking performance in the 60m hurdles, Dezerea Bryant’s first-place tie for the best time in the 60m dash, and Whitney Fountain’s third-place showing in the pentathlon.
Also, Clemson monopolized the 60 hurdles, as, in order, Jasmine Edgerson, Keni Harrison, and Bridgette Owens trailed only Rollins as they posted the second-through-fourth best times nationally.
“When you’re training with some of the top kids in the country on a day-to-day basis, it makes you realize how hard they have to work to stay there,” said Cobey. “I think that hurdles group in general is a good benefit to each other. Coach (Tim) Hall does a phenomenal job of giving them the workouts they need and keeping them focused on the goals and the tasks at hand. So they’re doing a great job.”
Despite the recent resignation of Lawrence Johnson, who guided Clemson’s women to an unbroken string of ACC titles and national prominence, it appears that neither the timing of that distraction nor the pressures of the top-ranking have diverted the team from its mission.
“Right now, they’re focused on performing week-in and week-out,” said Cobey. “They really haven’t been looking at the rankings, or going on-line and reading that kind of stuff. Their focus right now is getting better every single week, and putting themselves in a position where they can compete for a National Championship.
“Rankings are always good, but at the end of the day you’ve got to do it on the track and at the meet, and they know that. So that’s where their attention has been: getting better every day in practice. When they go to meets, they’re really just trying to improve every single time they go out.”
Cobey believes that the team has grasped the gradual process of high-level success and vying for national titles.
“Our team goals have not changed,” he reiterated. “Those are to go out and win ACCs, and then after ACCs to go out and try to win a National Championship. Our kids have been very focused on it, and there are steps throughout the season that you take. ACCs is one goal, and once that’s out of the way, we start looking at the other goal. But you do that week-by-week by not looking too far ahead. It’s more about what you can do on a daily basis to make yourself better and get ready.”