Coach Dan Waters arrived in Tuscaloosa with a plan and a challenge. Coming from a national title-winning operation at Texas A&M, building Alabama’s athletics program into a consistent winner would take some time.
The Crimson Tide men finished tied for 66th in their first NCAA outdoor track championships while the women were 44th.
It was 11 years ago.
Things are different now.
Alabama’s men’s program enters this week’s SEC Outdoor Championship, number 2 in the national rankings — the highest in school history. Ranking is based on individual times and placings within each event. Alabama’s 270.26 points are only behind Texas’ 279.44.
This follows an NCAA outdoor meet in 2021 when the women’s fourth-place finish was the best on the program since 1987, the second of consecutive seasons it was a national finalist.
The Tide women are ranked in the top 25 nationally and are No. 8 in the 14-team SEC, according to the USTFCCCA website.
On Tuesday, Waters was quick to dampen any talk of national title contention as he enters the May 12-14 SEC meet at Ole Miss.
“One of the goals when I came here 11 years ago was to create a full, rounded program and have people at every event,” Waters said. “And that’s kind of what we can see.”
Alabama has the No. 1-ranked 1,500-meter runner in Eliud Kipsang, the NCAA record holder for the event. Tarsis Orogot (No. 4 in the 200 meters), Isaac Odugbesan (No. 3 in the shot put), Kieran McKeag (No. 4 in the hammer throw) and Julian Collins (No. 5 in the long jump) are among the others top performing athletes. ).
The Tide men have 13 athletes ranked in the top 10 nationally from 21 outdoor competitive events.
The No. 2 ranking is not something to be avoided on the program, McKeag said.
“I think it’s a challenge but also not something that we don’t invite to compete,” he said. “Since the start of the year, Coach Waters has said the men’s team has a very special opportunity to do a lot of great things. Being second going into the playoffs makes us really excited.
The Alabama men finished 13th in NCAA meet last year with the program’s best season ending in third place in 1983.
In the 2021 SEC meet, Tide’s men were No. 2 and women’s No. 3.
The No. 2 national ranking entering conference competition speaks volumes about potential, Waters said, but it takes a lot more to get where they want to go.
“The program quietly tried to build us into the national struggle,” Waters said. “I think we may be knocking on the door at this point. But the thing about athletics is that it’s a very temperamental sport. Everything can happen. There are 21 different events, so a lot can happen in a weekend.
Alabama’s last SEC outdoor championship was in 1980, although it has been in the top five in four of the past five years.
Michael Casagrande is a reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @ByCasagrande Or on Facebook.