COLUMBIA — Missouri track and field's finest athletes are in College Station, Texas, this weekend to compete in the nation’s toughest conference championships.
Markesh Woodson will attempt to defend his title in the 60 meters, while Kearsten Peoples will try to prove why she is considered the nation’s top collegiate shot putter.
What: SEC Indoor Championships
Where: College Station, Texas
When: 1 p.m. CST Thursday Feb. 27-Saturday Mar. 1
Both athletes are heading to the Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium at Texas A&M on Friday with recent top performances and confidence.
Three other Tigers will also head south, but with more uncertainties surrounding their chances at a top finish.
Junior jumper Jonathan Ilori is coming off a Sept. 13 knee surgery, and he has not been able to break his 2013 personal record this season.
"Despite a few moments of excellence, it (the 2014 season) hasn’t been great. You haven’t seen the best of me yet," Ilori said.
That September day, though, he said he made a promise he hopes to fulfill this Saturday.
"My first words after waking up from surgery were 'I’m winning an SEC title,'" Ilori said. "I’m sticking to that."
Ilori may boast more confidence than the rest of the Tigers combined, which he attributes to the work he put into his rehabilitation.
"Once November hit, I started training like an animal," Ilori said. "I’m the beast everyone should be scared of."
Coach Brett Halter praised the English jumper’s resilience.
"It’s been a pretty tight window for him," Halter said. "It will be fun to see how things shake out for him."
The 2014 season hasn’t been a particularly fun one for Kyle Smith, as the hurdler hasn’t quite met his personal goals.
Friday and Saturday, he’ll have a chance to change that.
"I want to end this season on a good note, with a good time," Smith said.
The sophomore, who had a promising freshman year, simply looks to advance past the preliminary round in such a talented field and score points for his team.
"He’ll have his work cut out for him," Halter said. "He’s kind of in the middle of the pack at this point."
The middle of the pack is where freshman Kaitlyn Fischer found herself in the NCAA Championship cross country meet in November.
A struggle for position with the 2013 SEC Freshman of the Year, Arkansas' Dominique Scott, left Fischer with a gaping wound on her knee. Fischer ended up 79th out of 253 runners.
Halter believes the experience left Fischer battle-tested and ready for this weekend.
Fischer, however, may not share her coach’s confidence.
"I’m nervous, but I’m trying to stay positive," she said. "Just looking at all the athletes that I’ve heard of before will be a little overwhelming."
Trying to protect herself from injury, the freshman has only raced twice this indoor season; one was a disappointing race at Kentucky where she admits she was not mentally prepared.
"I was too scared that I wouldn’t belong," Fischer said.
She doesn’t want to repeat that mistake this weekend, though it's difficult to be confident against such intimidating competition: Eight SEC women's teams and seven men’s teams rank in the top 25 nationally.
"We want to line up with the very best out there and go out and see if we can beat them," Halter said. "We’re ready to have some fun."