Redhawks kick off season this week

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The most consistently successful athletic program at Southeast Missouri State is ready to begin another season.

Southeast track and field athletes open their indoor campaign at the Arkansas State Kickoff Classic in Jonesboro, Ark., Friday and Saturday.

According to veteran coach Joey Haines, the Redhawks' men and women can't wait for the competition -- mainly because they're probably tired of simply working out.

"We've been practicing since September, and we're ready to go," Haines said. "The distance runners have their cross country season, but all the others have just been running against themselves.

"Practices have been going really, really good and we're ready to see where we are. They're looking forward to it."

Haines expects good competition at the opening meet, although Southeast's distance runners, who recently finished the cross country season, won't compete.

"It's always a good meet, although it's not usually scored as a team," Haines said. "It's just a good chance to get out there and compete in some events."

Haines, Southeast's coach since 1982, expects another big year for his program.

The women swept the Ohio Valley Conference last season for the third straight time, winning both the indoor and outdoor titles. They have captured seven consecutive OVC championships overall.

The men won last season's OVC outdoor title for the second straight year, and they have finished second in three consecutive OVC indoor meets.

Although Haines expects his teams to be challenged in the OVC, he expects them to again fare well and contend for all four conference championships.

"We're really excited about the year and our goal is always to win OVC championships," said Haines, who has led Southeast to 14 conference women's titles and five league men's crowns since the school joined the OVC in 1991.

Southeast's women lost considerable talent from last year's squad and Haines knows it will be difficult to continue dominating the conference, but he's not about to concede anything.

"We lost some really good athletes and we're very, very young on the girls side," Haines said. "But I think we're going to be OK.

"We're going to be a better outdoor team than indoor. I don't have any doubt we'll win the outdoor again, and we can win the indoor, it's just going to take everybody, but that's what happened last year."

Southeast's men also lost some key performers, but not as many as the women, and the Redhawks return All-American Miles Smith among several other standouts.

Add in some key newcomers and Haines believes the men just might be better than they've ever been.

"We are really, really strong. It's definitely our best Division I men's team by far, because we're strong everywhere," Haines said. "We'll be really disappointed if we don't win both indoor and outdoor."

Smith, a senior, was seventh in the 400 meters at last year's NCAA indoor national meet. He had the second-fastest time among qualifiers during the first round of the NCAA outdoor meet but suffered a pulled hamstring in the semifinals, which ended his season.

Smith was fifth at the 2005 NCAA outdoor nationals and earned a gold medal as a member of the United States' 1,600-meter relay team at the world championships in Finland.

"Miles is in his best shape ever," Haines said. "His hamstring is fine, and he's looking good."

Following the opening meet, Southeast will have several weeks off before resuming its schedule in mid-January.

Southeast again has an indoor home meet, the Redhawks Invitational on Feb. 16 at the Student Recreation Center. The OVC indoor championships are Feb. 24 and 25 in Charleston, Ill.

The outdoor season will feature Southeast hosting its annual Gatorade Classic April 6 and 7 at the Abe Stuber Complex. The OVC outdoor championships are May 4 and 5 in Charleston, Ill.

"Everything we do all year is geared toward building for the OVC meet," Haines said. "I feel really good about the season."

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