DES MOINES, Iowa -- Despite a two-hour rain delay that pushed back Wednesday’s start time, the LSU track and field teams opened the first day of qualifying at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships with a total of eight qualifiers into event finals at Drake Stadium.
LSU was set to kick off the meet at 11 a.m. CDT with the men’s javelin competition, but the start time was delayed until 1 p.m. due to a driving rainstorm in the Des Moines area.
After waiting for the rain to clear, sophomore Preston Chatham became LSU’s first final qualifier on the day by finishing fourth in the qualifying round of the javelin. Chatham moved himself into qualifying position by unleashing a throw of 222 feet, 5 inches into a stiff headwind on his second throw before passing on his final attempt of the afternoon.
Chatham advanced to the javelin final for the second straight year after finishing 10th a year ago. He was one of 12 performers in the field to qualify for the final to be held on Friday.
“That was big for our men’s team to get at least one guy through to the final in the javelin,” said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “Preston stepped up and hit a big throw with a pretty strong wind coming right at him. We knew coming in that if we had a chance to compete for a national championship then our field event people would play a big role in that.”
The excitement on the track kicked off with the running of the men’s and women’s 4x100-meter relays, and both the Tigers and Lady Tigers breezed into Friday’s final in the event.
The Lady Tigers were the first to step onto the track, and the foursome of senior Brooklynn Morris, sophomore Samantha Henry, senior Juanita Broaddus and senior Kelly Baptiste advanced with the second-fastest preliminary time of the day at 43.35 seconds.
The Tigers followed with the fastest time of Wednesday’s preliminary action as sophomore Armanti Hayes, senior Richard Thompson, freshman Gabriel Mvumvure and junior Trindon Holliday crossed the finish line ahead of Texas A&M with a blistering qualifying time of 39.11.
LSU’s sprinters followed their outstanding performance in the relays with an even more impressive day of qualifying in the 100-meter dash as five of six NCAA participants advanced to the final round, also to be held following the 4x100 relay finals during Friday’s competition.
Despite the entire field running into a strong headwind at Drake Stadium throughout the afternoon, Thompson (10.33) and Holliday (10.34) advanced with the second and third fastest times in the men’s semifinal, while Baptiste (11.28), Henry (11.51) and Broaddus (11.56) took up three of the eight qualifying spots in the women’s semifinal round.
Baptiste, who was the fastest women’s qualifier on the afternoon, said the wind made it difficult on the entire field during both the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds.
“I knew the wind was blowing, but I didn’t think it would be blowing like that down on the track, especially in the first round,” Baptiste said. “I just tried to extend my drive phase so I would be down for a longer period of time in that first race. The wind was really tough there. It died down a little bit in the second race, and it felt a lot easier because the wind wasn’t in my face as much.”
Thompson echoed Baptiste’s statements as the men followed with two difficult semifinal heats of their own with a strong headwind blowing into the face of the runners.
“It was a strong wind, but I can’t complain because everyone had to run in the same conditions,” Thompson said. “I felt really good today. I just did what I had to do to get a lane on Friday. That is what a day like today is all about. It’s about making sure you do what you have to do to make it to the final. I also made sure to save some energy for the 200 tomorrow.”
Shaver said that he was proud of the way the group battled through the conditions to advance five into the 100-meter final, and added that he couldn’t recall a time in his 13-year coaching career at LSU that the teams combined for five finalists in the 100 meters at the NCAA Championships.
“That was a really outstanding job by our sprinters for getting five into the final,” Shaver said. “I’m really pleased with the way they handled adversity today and got through the rounds the way they did. That says a lot about how hard they competed today. They went out and earned the right to run again on Friday, and I’m proud of each and every one of them for the effort they gave.”
In addition to the eight qualifiers who earned the right to compete in finals on Friday, the squads combined for five qualifiers into semifinals that will be run on Thursday.
Sophomore Jamaal James and senior Elkana Kosgei kicked things off by advancing to Thursday’s semifinal in the 800-meter run with qualifying times of 1 minute, 50.02 seconds and 1:50.33 on the first day of the competition. Sophomore LaTavia Thomas advanced to the semifinal round of the women’s 800 with an opening time of 2:08.51.
Junior Nickiesha Wilson was also the second-fastest qualifier into the semifinal round of the 400-meter hurdles with a steady preliminary time of 57.31, while Morris qualified in the women’s 400 meters with an opening time of 53.35.
“We had an outstanding day of qualifying today, and we actually advanced more than I thought we would on the first day,” Shaver said. “But today is now over, and it’s time to turn our attention to tomorrow. This meet is spread out over four long days, and you have to treat every day like a different track meet if you’re going to survive.
“We did a great job today with the opportunities we had, but now we have to turn our attention to a different track meet tomorrow.”
Thursday’s action at the 2008 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships kicks off with the conclusion of the men’s decathlon competition at 10:45 a.m. CDT followed by the start of the field events at 2:15 p.m. and the first events on the track at 4:30 p.m. Live results of the second day of the competition can be found at www.flashresults.com.