Ole Miss’ track and field program has quietly become something of a national power under head coach Connie Price-Smith, who, recall, doubles as the head coach of the women’s national team. Last week and over the weekend, the NCAA track and field championship meet returned to Oregon’s historic Hayward field, and both teams finished in the top 30 in points.
Selection to the NCAA meet is on an individual basis, with a regional meet taking place after the conference meets finish. A full 11 athletes across the men’s and women’s teams qualified for this year’s national championships, and they collectively earn points for Ole Miss. Hammer thrower Raven Saunders and miler Craig Engels were among seven Rebels to return to Eugene for this year’s national meet.
Engels, of course, has become something of an internet sensation, after pictures of his mullet and mustache made their way across social media last week. Just look at this spectacular man:
Engels is the SEC indoor and outdoor champion in the 1600m and 1500m, or metric mile, respectively. His time at nationals of 3:43.54 was good for third place, the second-highest finish in Ole Miss history — despite being clipped at the finish line. New Mexico’s Josh Kerr won the race in a closely contested sprint-out down the stretch.
Next to the 800m, the metric mile is perhaps the most punishing race in the sport. Many high schoolers who are good 400m runners tend to move up to the 800 as their stamina improves with more mileage in their legs. The same is true of high school 800 runners, who own incredible foot speed, a necessary component of a race that lasts just under four minutes. Engels has perfected the art of the 1500.
Fellow distance-running stablemate MJ Erb competed in the 3000m steeplechase, finishing fourth in the country with a time of 8:32.38, a personal record for him. He and Engels will earn All-American honors for their performances.
The men finished nationals tied for 14th in points, the women tied for 29th. They finished 16th at the indoor national championships and a stunning fourth at cross country nationals back in November. XC is a wonderful sport in terms of its scoring, so that whatever place a runner finishes in his how many points he or she earns for his team. The top five runners score for the team out of seven, and the lowest score wins (so a perfect score is 15: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5).
The US Track and Field Association every year ranks every school’s overall annual performance, and this year the Ole Miss men finished third in their poll, behind blue-blood heavy hitters Oregon and Arkansas. That’s impressive company for a program that as recently as 2002 was finishing dead last at the SEC meets and failing to send any distance runners to nationals.
Anyway, Ole Miss is a #TrackAndFieldSchool now.