BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The LSU Track & Field teams came out firing in their opener of the 2014 indoor season on Saturday as the Tigers and Lady Tigers combined to win five event titles and record 11 indoor personal-best performances as part of a strong 12-team field competing at the Auburn Indoor Invitational at the Birmingham Crossplex.
Senior Denise Hinton opened up by winning the women’s weight throw crown in the first event of the day, while fellow senior Jasmin Stowers also took home the title in the first final on the track with a blistering run in the women’s 60-meter hurdles. The teams also closed out the meet by winning three of the four relays to cap another successful season opener.
Two of LSU’s relays even set new meet records at the Auburn Indoor Invitational with the women’s distance medley relay and men’s 4x400-meter relay opening with impressive performances.
“It was a typical season opener for us in many ways, but I thought we did some really good things as a team for our first time out,” said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “One of the things we like to see from each of our athletes in a season opener is how they compare to their first meet last year. We saw a lot of improvement in that regard across the board here today.”
Hinton got the ball rolling with an impressive performance in the very first event of the day as she scored her 11th career women’s weight throw title with a season-opening mark of 65 feet, 8 ¼ inches.
After opening with a mark of 59-10 ½ on her first attempt, Hinton took control of the competition with back-to-back marks of 65-7 ¾ in the second round and 65-8 ¼ in the third round to solidify her spot at the top of the event standings heading into the final. Hinton finished more than four feet clear of senior teammate Karen Henning as the Lady Tiger swept the top two spots in the weight throw.
The reigning SEC Indoor weight throw champion is off to a fast start in defense of her conference crown as she improved upon her season-opening performance from a year ago by more than one foot as she opened up her junior season in 2013 with a winning mark of 64-8 at the Crimson Tide Indoor Opener also held at the Birmingham Crossplex.
Henning finished just five inches shy of her personal best as she opened her senior season with a series-best throw of 61-5 to claim the silver medal as runner-up to Hinton’s winning 65-8 ¼.
While Hinton took home the title in the first event of the day, Stowers cruised to an easy victory in the first championship final on the track in the “B” section of the women’s 60-meter hurdles while establishing herself as an early-season national championship contender in the event.
It proved to be a routine afternoon of competition for the reigning SEC Indoor champion and NCAA Indoor bronze medalist as Stowers hurdled to the fastest qualifying time of the day at 8.37 seconds in the preliminary round before racing to an early-season NCAA leader of 8.16 in the final to claim the Auburn Indoor Invitational title by nearly three tenths of a second over the rest of the field.
Auburn’s Ebony Morrison followed in second place with a run of 8.44 in the final, while LSU’s Chanice Chase took third place after running back-to-back personal bests of 8.65 in the qualifying round and 8.45 in the final.
Stowers, who has won each of the last three SEC Indoor titles in the women’s 60-meter hurdles while also earning All-America honors in the event in each of the last two seasons, is already well ahead of her pace from a year ago when she opened the 2013 campaign by running a top time of 8.38 in a runner-up finish on the same track at the Crimson Tide Indoor Opener.
The Tigers and Lady Tigers were also impressive in winning three of the four relays with victories in the women’s distance medley relay and both the men’s and women’s 4x400-meter relays.
Redshirt freshmen Chaiss Matthews (1,200 meters) and Morgan Schuetz (400 meters) teamed with true freshman Danielle Avery (800 meters) and sophomore Andria Aguilar (mile) to claim the women’s DMR by more than 10 seconds with a meet record 11 minutes, 58.73 seconds. The Auburn Tigers trailed in second place with a time of 12:09.04.
Both Aguilar and Schuetz even set indoor personal bests in their individual events during Saturday’s competition as Aguilar raced to the finish line in a time of 4:56.83 for 10th place in the women’s mile and Schuetz ran a time of 2:11.33 for second place in the women’s 800 meters. Aguilar became one of the 10 fastest milers in Lady Tiger history as her PR ranks No. 10 on LSU’s all-time performance list in the event.
The Lady Tigers made it a clean sweep of relay titles at this year’s Auburn Indoor Invitational as they opened the season with a run of 3:44.37 in the 4x400 relay to outpace Clemson in second place at 3:46.29.
A youthful pack of Lady Tigers opened the season in the 4x400-meter relay as freshman Bealoved Brown, senior Nikita Tracey, freshman Jada Martin and Chase recorded the fastest time in this year’s competition.
It was Martin’s second race of the event as she was also the top collegian in the women’s 200-meter dash after clocking a season-opening 24.03 in her collegiate debut with the Lady Tigers. The freshman from Lithonia, Ga., took third place overall behind post-collegians Lanece Clarke (23.86) and Monica Hargrove (23.96) while finishing just six one hundredths shy of her indoor PR of 23.97.
The Tigers put the exclamation point onto the end of the meet with the easy victory in the men’s 4x400-meter relay as the team of sophomore Darrell Bush, junior Quincy Downing, sophomore Cyril Grayson and junior Vernon Norwood set a new Auburn Indoor Invitational meet record of 3:09.17. Middle Tennessee State followed more than one second behind in second place at 3:10.55.
“We had a number of athletes who really got after it today and competed very well to open the season,” Shaver said. “We feel like this is a good starting point for both our teams. We know where we are in many ways after today, and that’s really going to help us improve when we go to College Station for our next competition.”
Freshman Nataliyah Friar led a host of Tigers and Lady Tigers setting new personal bests during Saturday’s season opener as she eclipsed the 20-foot mark in the long jump for the first time in her athletics career.
After posting a top jump of 19-2 ½ on her second attempt to earn a spot in the final with fifth place in the qualifying round, Friar soared into second place overall with a lifetime best of 20-2 ¼ on her fifth attempt for an impressive collegiate debut with the Lady Tigers. She actually finished as the top collegian while finishing behind only the winning mark of 21-2 ½ by professional long jumper Bianca Stuart.
Friar, a product of Holt High School in Wentzville, Mo., posted a previous all conditions personal best with a wind-aided 19-9 ½ outdoors as a high school junior in 2012 before smashing that mark in her first college meet with the Lady Tigers at the Auburn Indoor Invitational. She also signed with the Lady Tigers with an indoor PR of 40-4 and a lifetime PR of 40-9 ¾ in the triple jump.
Sophomore Aliyah Davis set an indoor personal record of her own in the women’s 200-meter dash during Saturday’s competition as she clocked 24.90 for 15th place in the event.
Freshman standout Blair Henderson was among six Tigers setting new indoor personal bests in his season opener as he slashed nearly two seconds off of his previous indoor best in the men’s 800 meters by clocking an impressive 1:50.82 for second place in his collegiate debut to trail only Middle Tennessee State’s Eliud Rutto (1:50.19) across the finish line. Henderson smashed his previous indoor PR of 1:52.22 that he set on the same track at the Birmingham Crossplex as a high school senior a year ago while competing for St. Louis High School in Lake Charles, La.
Other Tigers setting indoor bests during Saturday’s action were senior Shermund Allsop (21.60) in the 200 meters, juniors Philip Primeaux (8:28.87) and Bryan Mutell (8:59.25) in the 3,000 meters and sophomores David Collins (57-3) in the weight throw and Joshua Lamers (7.91) in the 60-meter hurdles.
With their 2014 season opener now in the books, the Tigers and Lady Tigers will head back on the road next weekend with a trip to College Station, Texas, to compete at the Texas A&M Triangular being held Jan. 25 at the Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium. The Lady Tigers are the defending Texas A&M Triangular champion on the women’s side, while the Tigers took third place in the event a year ago.