Between women’s indoor and outdoor track and field, the Southern Conference has played host to 53 championship meets since the sport came to the league in 1987.
Appalachian State and Western Carolina have combined to win 49 of them.
Two were won by East Tennessee State — the 1996 outdoor championship and the 1995 indoor title — and one indoor title was taken by Chattanooga in 1998.
The only other outdoor SoCon champion not named Appalachian State or Western Carolina? The 2007 Georgia Southern Eagles.
As the 2014 Eagles rode the bus to Winston-Salem, N.C., on Friday for this year’s indoor championship, the last in the SoCon for GSU before joining the Sun Belt in the fall, they didn’t listen to music or pop in a movie.
Head coach Marlo Mincey dug up the VHS tape from the 2007 outdoor title and played it to inspire the Eagles, a group Mincy feels has a chance at the program’s second overall championship and first indoors.
“We expect to be conference champions from 800-meters and down,” Mincey said. “We’re more than capable of winning all those events, and that’s quite a few events. Weakness-wise, we’d like to have more balance. A lot of our top athletes are young and really don’t have that championship experience. They have a lot of pressure on them and you hope they can stay focused and do things how they practiced.”
Mincey, and the Eagles, are intent on leaving a mark on the SoCon.
“You want to make sure they don’t miss us. You want to make sure they’re glad we’re leaving,” Mincey said. “But at the same time, any time you go to any conference championship meet the goal is to win, so we aren’t going to change our approach.”
Appalachian State and WCU are expected, as usual, to be in the mix, but Mincey believes the SoCon has something this season rarely seen in the past -- parity.
“It’s going to be pretty much anybody’s this year,” Mincey said. “There’s nobody standing so far from the group that nobody could catch them.”
One of the younger Eagles, sophomore Ashleigh Rasheed, will have a busy weekend, including not least, Saturday’s grueling pentathlon.
She remembers something GSU athletics director Tom Kleinlein told the team when it learned the Eagles were leaving the SoCon for the Sun Belt.
“He said, ‘Come out with a bang.’ We’re leaving the SoCon, and we just need to focus and just go out there and do it,” Rasheed said.
Another busy student athlete will be graduate student Sherril McFarlane, who runs events ranging from 400-meters to the mile. She is the GSU program record holder in both the mile and the 800, though scheduling will limit her to the amount of events in which she’d like to participate.
“Her range is incredible, and that's something we won't be able to show as much as we’d like at this meet,” Mincey said.
Georgia Southern freshman thrower Kelsey Arnold has been a strength for the team, holding GSU’s second all-time record in the weight throw even though she’d only competed in shot put and discus at Jonesboro High School, the only two throws in which the GHSA competes.
That happened after a mishap when Arnold was first learning how to throw weights.
“In my first meet I threw it over the cage and I almost hit some of the people who were measuring,” Arnold laughed.
She competes in weight and shot for the Eagles.
The SoCon indoor meet begins today at the JDL Fast Track in Winston-Salem. Western Carolina is the defending SoCon champion.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.