Southeast Missouri State University's track program received an impressive honor on the eve of the three-day Kansas Relays that begin tonight.
It was announced Wednesday that, according to USA Track and Field, Southeast's women are ranked 19th nationally in the organization's Team Power Rankings.
"It's really great for our program to be nationally recognized, and we're really excited," Southeast coach Joey Haines said. "Our girls are the best-kept secret in town."
The Team Power Ranking system is a computer-based ranking system based on the performances of the top two athletes from each school in every event this year. Haines said the Otahkians have been ranked in the 30s before, but 19th is easily their highest mark.
"In a system like this, obviously we won't finish 19th in the nation," Haines said. "But a lot of schools that win the NCAAs or place high are really good in a few events but don't concentrate on some other events that much. They'll go to the NCAAs and score a lot of points, where we might not get any points.
"But our team, we are very strong across the board. This kind of thing recognizes an overall team. Across the board, our people are very good, and our second-line people are very good as well."
The Otahkians have three athletes who are nationally ranked based on their top performance through the early part of the outdoor season.
Sophomore Brooke Woodruff is ranked ninth in the 800-meter run after recently breaking the school record; junior Meleisa Greene is 16th in the long jump after recently tying the school mark; and junior Heather Jenkins is 10th in the discus, 41st in the shot put and 63rd in the hammer throw. Jenkins, a Central High School product, owns the school marks in the discus and hammer and has Southeast's No. 2 all-time best shot put outdoors. She holds the indoor record.
Even though the outdoor season is only a few weeks old, Jenkins has already qualified for the NCAA regional in all three events, while Woodruff and Greene also have qualified in their specialties.
"It's incredible for our team to be ranked 19th in the nation," Woodruff said. "It's a big accomplishment for us. We all work really hard and we have a great team."
Southeast's men have qualified two athletes for regionals: senior Jay Heddell in the shot put -- he holds the school record -- and freshman Miles Smith, who recently ran the third-fastest 400 meters in school history.
Southeast's women won the Ohio Valley Conference indoor title and should be favored to capture the outdoor crown later this spring. The men finished second indoors and could challenge for the outdoor championship.
"Going into the season I thought this was the best women's team we've had, and I think we'll keep getting stronger," Haines said. "We have some seniors having really good years, but it's still a young team.
"Both our teams are off to very good starts and we hope to keep improving every week. The ranking is the kind of thing that, if you don't improve as the season goes along, you'll drop. It's going to be difficult to stay up there, but hopefully we can keep improving."
Southeast athletes will try to meet additional regional qualifying marks at the 77th running of the Kansas Relays, which is expected to feature more than 5,000 athletes representing 19 states. Meet organizers are anticipating the biggest field ever.
"It used to be one of the top four or five meets in the country," Haines said. "The quality has dropped some in the last few years, but it's still a very good meet and we're looking forward to it."