Back on Track: New facility compliments Ole Miss Track and Field’s success

Members of the track team take a lap on the new surface for the first time

At 7 a.m. last Friday morning, a group of about ten members of the Ole Miss track team gathered at the northwest end of the track. They walked in the gate and stepped on the bright red polyurethane running surface and began to stretch. It was the first time in over two years the team had stepped foot on a track of its own.

“This morning was pretty exciting,” said Craig Engels, a senior distance runner. “We’ve watched the track be built for two years, so finally getting to use it this morning was a treat.”

Engels transferred from NC State in 2014. He, like many of the guys on the team had never been at Ole Miss when it had its own track.

The new facility includes a a Beynon Sports Surfaces 2000 full pour polyurethane running surface with hobart texture, a 37-by-26-foot Daktronics video display board and a new throwing area adjacent to the track. The project also included men’s and women’s locker rooms, team room, coaches’ offices, grandstands for 1,500 spectators, concession area and control room.

“This track compared to other tracks we’ve run on across the country… is honestly one of the nicest I’ve ever seen in my life,” Engels said.

But it hasn’t always been that way.

In 2013, the ground around the track began to develop cavities underground. In the middle of the 2014 spring season, the surface was condemned due to a busted five-foot diameter drain pipe that was found to be causing problems with the soil. To solve the problem, university officials decided to repair the pipe, and re-vamp the track, in what ended up becoming a multi-year $7.3 million project.

The team was suddenly and unexpectedly without a home.

Distance runners and sprinters training last Friday

“We’ve watched the whole process go down from day one. They dug up everything,” Engels said. “I think they had to go 20 feet under the earth to remove the pipe and everything.”

Practice conditions were less than ideal. The team instead worked out at local high school facilities when available.

“Last year we’d have to travel off campus to use a track, and that makes it more difficult (for athletes) to get back to class if (they) have an eight or nine o’clock (class),” head coach Ryan Vanhoy said. “So having access to something right on campus definitely eases the process in terms of practicing in the morning.”

The lack of a campus track also presented a stumbling block for recruiting prospective athletes.

“Especially when we are working out at high schools, it is not enticing for a high schooler a to see that and be like ‘yeah I’d love to come to college and run on another high school track,” Engels said.

But it made due. Despite challenges, the men’s and women’s teams had four SEC individual champions in the 2014–15 season, as well as 10 All-American selections and 14 named to All-SEC teams. Vanhoy couldn’t deny how much easier this new facility has made recruiting.

“We’ve been recruiting the last 2–3 years without a home facility,” Vanhoy said. “That is always difficult. Not impossible, but difficult, so it helps in recruiting.”

The team sustained success in a tough circumstance, and now it has a facility on par with those achievements.

“I haven’t had a track, well, a home track per se since I’ve gotten here,” sophomore Dylan Day said. “So it was nice to have that first time running on a track that really is ours.”The benefits are already blossoming. Ole Miss is set to host two meets in the spring season; a refreshing home field advantage for a team that has traveled across the country to compete in the last few years.

“I’m looking forward to some home field advantage. Being here in Mississippi, there is not a lot of track and field races that go down,” Ryan Manahan, a senior distance runner said. “So we are having to fly all over the place whether it is to Penn State or Stanford to get in some good track races. But now we have a state of the art facility in our back yard and some world class competition right here on our team so we are going to have some fast meets.”

The teams results during the transition between homes will speak for themselves. But now, the Rebels are literally back on track, and ready to garner even greater success, with a facility they’ve waited years for.

“I think this team right now has a lot of potential, and in order to realize that potential we can’t keep training on high school surfaces,” Engels said. “I think this track will be what we need to push this team to the next level and do really well at the national level.”