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LSU’s Track Dynasty Appears Over

June 2, 1998

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) _ The longest running dynasty in college track and field _ LSU’s string of 11 consecutive NCAA women’s outdoor titles _ appears to be coming to an end.

Even coach Pat Henry grudgingly concedes that the Tigers’ reign should not go beyond this weekend at the NCAA Championships at the University of Buffalo.

``I don’t know if we have the personnel to win the championship,″ Henry said. ``On paper, three schools do _ Texas, UCLA and BYU.″

Of course, Henry is not giving up easily on his team that has monopolized the No. 1 spot since 1987.

``Championships are not won on paper,″ he said. ``What’s on paper you have to do at a meet. I’m not telling my girls we can’t win.

``Emotions are a big part of track and field. Emotionally, you have to have the right things happen. If you get on a roll, you can hit it.″

A sign that LSU’s domination was beginning to fade came at last year’s championships at Bloomington, Ind., where the Tigers rallied for 43 points on the final day to beat Texas by 1 point. Their previous closest victory was 1988, when LSU beat UCLA by 3 points.

Then, at the NCAA Indoor Championships at Indianapolis in March, Texas broke LSU’s string of five straight titles.

The outdoor battle between LSU and Texas, both of whom are built around a core of sprinters and hurdlers, begins Wednesday and ends Saturday.

LSU’s chances were severely hurt even before the season, when the NCAA ruled that Astia Walker, last year’s 100-meter hurdles champion, was ineligible because she had competed in one meet during her sophomore year at Riverside (Calif.) Junior College.

``We didn’t know about that until after the fact,″ Henry said. ``She competed in one meet and took three steps in another before getting hurt, and the NCAA ruled that as a whole year of eligibility.″

Walker had helped account for 28 points in last year’s meet. In addition to winning the hurdles, she finished second in the 200 and led off LSU’s winning 400-meter relay.

Walker was virtually missing in this year’s indoor championships, too. Owning the best time in the 200, she was disqualified for running out of her lane. That seemed to affect the entire team, and after that, the Tigers disintegrated.

``That was a big letdown,″ Henry said.

As the Tigers sagged, the Longhorns soared.

``It was about time we won,″ Texas coach Bev Kearney said.

``Last year was a bitter pill to swallow, but it made us a better team this year.

``This year, we have enough firepower to win. We’ve done a good job of focusing all year and I’m looking forward to the team finishing the season with the same intensity it began the season.″

The Longhorns had four individual winners indoors _ LaKeisha Backus in the 200, Suziann Reid in the 400, Angie Vaughn in the 55-meter hurdles and Erin Aldrich in the high jump _ and all are either ranked first or second in their events outdoors.

Kearney expects a three-team battle among Texas, LSU and UCLA, last year’s third-place finisher.

``UCLA is stronger, we’re stronger, LSU is weaker,″ she said. ``But anyone who thinks LSU is weak is mistaken. Don’t underestimate LSU. They know how to win and they’ve proven it year in and year out.″

The Bruins’ strength is in the throwing events, but like LSU, they could be hurt by the absence of one of their top performers _ hurdler Joanna Hayes.

Hayes injured a hamstring at the Pac-10 Championships and her participation this week is uncertain. She was scheduled to compete in four events _ the 100 and 400 hurdles, and the 400 and 1,600 relays.

Still, with Nada Kawar and Seilala Sua in the shot put, Suzy Powell, Rachelle Noble and Sua in the discus, Noble in the hammer throw and Powell in the javelin, the Bruins are very formidable.

Arkansas is expected to win the men’s title for the seventh straight year and eighth time overall. The Razorbacks, with an array of strong distance runners and horizontal jumpers, also have won the indoor championship 14 of the last 15 years.

If they win again this weekend, they would tie Southern Cal (1949-55) for the second longest streak outdoors. The Trojans also have the longest, nine in a row, from 1935-43.

``The weather will be good for the distance runners,″ Arkansas coach John McDonnell said, referring to the expected cool temperatures in Buffalo this week. ``it will be ideal. It won’t hurt us.″

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