Florida State men, Arizona State women take aim at titles
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The Florida State men are fast, the Arizona State women powerful.
Both are favorites in the NCAA track and field championships that begin a four-day run Wednesday.
FSU's fleetest is Walter Dix, who set a collegiate record with a 19.69-second performance in the 200 meters at the East Regional and has a best of 10.05 in the 100.
"Every sprint coach in the world is talking about Walter Dix right now," Florida State coach Bob Braman said before bringing his team west to defend its NCAA title. "The guy is world class. He's not afraid of anybody. He just focuses on what he's doing."
The Arizona State women, meanwhile, pack the 1-2 throwing punch of Sarah Stevens and Jessica Pressley and want to add a first outdoor title to the indoor crown they won in March.
"We don't like to say we carry the team," Stevens said, "but we have scored a lot of points this year."
Stevens, a sophomore, has the best marks in the competition in the shot put (60 feet, 4½ inches) and discus (189-5). She and Pressley also could score points in the hammer.
Florida State was so good a year ago that the Seminoles won the men's title even though its powerhouse 400 relay team was disqualified in the first round.
"We have a smaller team this year compared to last year's team," Florida State sprinter Greg Bolden said, "but the bullets that we're packing are a lot stronger."
None is stronger than Dix, who is joining the long list of standout U.S. sprinters. The soft-spoken junior would rather let his running do the talking. He did not attend Tuesday's pre-meet news conference.
Dix plans to make his noise on the track, with the first round and semifinals of the 100 scheduled for Wednesday's opening day at the Sacramento State track.
"If Florida State does what they're supposed to do, no one will beat them," LSU coach Dennis Shaver said.
Dix won the NCAA 100 as a freshman and added the 200 title last year. Still, he has sometimes been overshadowed because of his quiet nature and the sheer talent of the competition.
Last year, Xavier Carter of LSU got the attention with an unprecedented 100-400 sweep.
"You look back at his freshman year when he won the NCAA championship (in the 100) and was the American junior record holder," Braman said, "then he took fourth place in the 200. Well, the four guys ahead of him that day were Tyson Gay, Wallace Spearmon and Xavier Carter. Those are four of the seven fastest humans ever at 200 meters."
Last year Carter was the headliner at the NCAAs, becoming the first to win the 100 and 400 at an NCAA meet. Now it would seem to be Dix's turn.
He is the prohibitive favorite in the 200, but he will be challenged in the 100 by a pair of standout sophomores, Travis Padgett of Clemson (10.05) and Trindon Holliday of LSU (10.07).
"The short sprints, they get the big press," Braman said, "and he's at the top of that list right now."
This could be Dix's last collegiate meet. He has not said whether he will forgo his senior season to turn professional.
Always-strong LSU could contend in both the men's and women's team races. The Auburn women, though, will have a hard time repeating as champions after their 400-meter relay team was disqualified in regional competition. The Auburn men could have a better shot.
Among the Arizona State women who could score big is Jacquelyn Johnson, who begins defense of her heptathlon title on Wednesday. However, she has been slowed this season following ankle surgery in December.
While the likes of LSU and Auburn are perennial team title contenders, the Arizona State women have made a slower climb.
"It's been nice that it's worked out," coach Greg Kraft said, "but it's been a work in progress for quite some time now."
The NCAA meet ends a three-year run at Sacramento State this year. The meet will be held in Des Moines, Iowa, next season.
Associated Press Writer Brent Kallestad in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed to this report.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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