Record finishes for Track & Field in final USTFCCCA Program of the Year standings

Published 4:56 pm Thursday, June 17, 2021

Special to the Item

NEW ORLEANS — Ole Miss men’s and women’s track & field have been rewarded following a spectacular 2020-21 across the cross country, indoor and outdoor seasons, with the men tying a program record No. 3 finish and the women setting a new record with a No. 7 finish in the final USTFCCCA Program of the Year standings released on Wednesday.

The Program of the Year award assigns a point value to the national finish of each team following the cross country, indoor and outdoor seasons, with the lowest point total being named the winner. Arkansas and BYU held the top two spots in both races, with Arkansas edging out BYU by a razor-thin half-point margin in the men’s standings (40-40.5), and BYU taking the women’s crown over the Razorbacks, 18-26. Ole Miss was third in the men’s race with 53 points, and seventh in the women’s standings at 67. Arkansas, BYU and Ole Miss are the only programs nationally to have both of its programs ranked in the final standings.

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This marks just the third appearance for both the Ole Miss men and women. This year’s third-place finish for the Rebel men ties their previous record third-place finish from 2017, with their only other appearance coming in 2016 (15th). This is the first appearance for the Rebel women since finishing ninth in 2018, and it bests the previous record eighth-place finish set by the Ole Miss women in 2017. All six appearances in the final USTFCCCA Program of the Year standings have come under sixth-year head coach Connie Price-Smith, who took over in the 2015-16 season.

Ole Miss put together this remarkable season amidst the COVID-19 affected schedules of the entire 2020-21 season, which particularly affected the cross country season. The Rebels excelled at the SEC Championships in October, with the Rebel men completing the first 1-2-3 SEC podium sweep in school history (led by SEC champion Mario Garcia Romo) to finish second in the team standings, while the Rebel women finished third – their fifth consecutive top-three finish after having never finished top-three prior to 2016.

The Rebels had to wait nearly five months to hit the cross country course again at the rescheduled NCAA Cross Country Championships in March, where Ole Miss put together a historic effort at Oklahoma State. Both Rebel squads finished 12th in the team standings, which stands as the second-best for the Ole Miss men and was a massive program record for the Rebel women, who were in their fifth straight appearance after having never qualified prior to 2016. Ole Miss stands as one of just four schools in the nation to have placed both its men’s and women’s programs within the top-25 in each of the last five seasons alongside BYU, Colorado and Stanford.

Most amazing about those NCAA Cross Country Championship finishes was that it was within 72 hours of many of those same Rebels running at the NCAA Indoor Championships over in Arkansas. Combined, Ole Miss scored a program record 32 points at the indoor national meet after sending a program record 10 entries.

The Rebel men recorded their highest NCAA Indoor finish since 2001 with a 10th-place finish via a program record 20 points. All 20 of those points came from a men’s distance squad who just two days later would push the Rebels toward a 12th-place cross country finish. Ole Miss finished as the NCAA runners-up in the distance medley relay, finishing behind the world record holder Oregon at the No. 4 time in world history at 9:20.75. Mario Garcia Romo – who ran on that relay as the anchor – also scored as the bronze medalist in the 3K. Waleed Suliman took third in the mile, the highest finish ever in the event by a Rebel.

The Ole Miss women, meanwhile, recorded the third-best finish in program history indoors in 19th place – their second top-20 finish within the last five seasons. Leading that charge was the weight throw duo of Shey Taiwo and Jasmine Mitchell, who finished third and fourth, respectively, after becoming the first pair of teammates in NCAA history to break 23 meters in the same season earlier in the year. The women’s distance medley relay also scored in eighth place – the highest finish in the event in program history – before they also went over to the national cross country meet to make history there two days later.

Outdoors, it was much of the same for the Rebels on the national stage, with Waleed Suliman and Mario Garcia Romo leading the charge for the men and Shey Taiwo excelling for the women. Suliman and Garcia Romo combined for all 10 of the Rebel men’s points en route to a tie for 30th place in the team standings. Suliman finished third in a historically fast men’s 1500-meter final – tying for the best finish ever by a Rebel in the event – with Garcia Romo not far behind in fifth place. Taiwo, meanwhile, stunned with a monstrous 16-foot PR in the women’s hammer that earned her NCAA runner-up honors behind a historic collegiate record effort by champion Camryn Rogers of Cal. Thanks to Taiwo, the Rebel women finished tied for 33rd place with eight points.

USTFCCCA Men’s Program of the Year Standings

1. Arkansas – 40

2. BYU – 40.5

3. Ole Miss – 53

4. Iowa State – 54

5. Notre Dame – 75.5

6. Michigan State – 113.5

USTFCCCA Women’s Program of the Year Standings

1. BYU – 18

2. Arkansas – 26

3. Alabama – 29.5

4. Florida State – 46

5. NC State – 55.5

6. Colorado – 56

7. Ole Miss – 67

8. Minnesota – 72.5

9. Washington – 86

10. Duke – 89.5

11. Michigan State – 90.5

12. Indiana – 114.5