BATON ROUGE – Senior Denise Hinton and junior Tori Bliss kicked off Saturday’s LSU Invitational by breaking their own school records in the hammer throw and shot put, while junior Aaron Ernest nearly sprinted to a school record of his own in the 200-meter dash to highlight LSU’s regular-season finale on Senior Day at the Bernie Moore Track Stadium.
While stepping into the hammer circle at the Bernie Moore Track Stadium for the final time as a Lady Tiger, Hinton went out with a bang as she unleashed a school-record throw of 218 feet, 0 inches on her last attempt to take home the title and catapult herself into the No. 2 spot in the NCAA rankings for the 2014 outdoor season as she now looks toward the SEC Championships.
Bliss also cracked the Top 10 of the NCAA rankings as the No. 7-ranked shot putter this season as she also broke her own school record with a winning mark of 56-9 ¼ on her sixth and final throw of the day.
Ernest lined up in the 200 meters for the first time outdoors in 2014 and sprinted to a lifetime personal best of 20.14 seconds in his debut to take down Florida’s NCAA and World leader Dedric Dukes, moving himself to No. 2 in the NCAA rankings and No. 2 on LSU’s all-time outdoor performance list in the event while establishing himself as a national championship threat in the event.
Their performance helped lead the No. 7-ranked Lady Tigers to the women’s team title with 154 points and the No. 10-ranked Tigers to a runner-up finish in the men’s team race with 155.5 points on the afternoon.
The Lady Tigers finished just 9.5 points clear of No. 3-ranked Texas A&M in second place with 144.5 points, while No. 2-ranked Florida took third place with 103 points, Miami followed in fourth place with 81 points and Ole Miss trailed in fifth place with 69.5 points to round out the women’s team scoring.
With their 155.5 points scored on the afternoon, the Tigers were second to the 172 points scored by No. 2-ranked Texas A&M in the race for the men’s team title, while No. 16-ranked Ole Miss finished in third place with 115.5 points, No. 1-ranked Florida trailed in fourth place with 102 points and Miami rounded out the top five in the final men’s standings in fifth place with 26 points scored during the competition.
“At this time of the year, you just want everybody to start gaining a little bit of confidence in what it is that they’re doing,” said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “The coaching staff, I think everybody kind of zeroed in on this is what we’re trying to get done with this person at this meet. You’ve got to give credit to all of the athletes because they really did a tremendous job. It’s always a real motivating thing for our seniors. I’m sure that they remember a lot of these meets at home, but they’re always going to remember this last one. We had some really great performances from that group today.”
Hinton had already set LSU’s school record in the women’s hammer throw when she set her previous personal best of 209-6 in winning the event at the team’s “Battle on the Bayou” back on April 12. She competed on Saturday riding an impressive run of form while eclipsing 204 feet in each of her last three appearances after setting that school record earlier in the season.
It only took Hinton two throws to raise her school record in the final home meet of her collegiate career as she uncorked a lifetime best of 213-0 in the second round of qualifying. After nearly matching that throw later in the final with a mark of 211-11 in the fifth round, Hinton raised the bar once again with a career-best of 218-0 on her sixth attempt of the day and her final throw at the Bernie Moore Track Stadium.
A native of Peachtree City, Ga., Hinton finished more than 20 feet clear of the field as Miami’s Lea Johnson threw 197-7 in the first round to finish runner-up on the afternoon. LSU senior Karen Henning enjoyed a 2014 seasonal best of her own when she threw 192-9 in the first round and 194-3 in the sixth round to claim third place in the event.
With her performance, Hinton leapfrogged Akron’s Brittany Funk (217-7) for the NCAA’s No. 2 spot as she now trails only the national-leading mark of 230-7 by Princeton’s Julia Ratcliffe in the NCAA rankings.
A two-time SEC Indoor weight throw champion, Hinton now sets her sights on winning her first career SEC Outdoor crown in the hammer throw as the SEC leader in the event by more than 10 feet heading into the SEC Championships in two weeks. Georgia’s Elizabeth Tepe will be Hinton’s top rival for the conference title as she follows on the SEC performance list with her mark of 207-6 in 2014.
Hinton earned All-SEC honors in the hammer throw last season for the first time in her career when she threw a 2013 seasonal best of 202-0 in a runner-up finish at the SEC Outdoor Championships.
“I have like 10 people in my family here in town. We were at dinner last night, and I was telling them, ‘You guys drove seven-and-a-half hours to come here to watch me, and I’m not about to make it for nothing.’ I had to make their trip worth it and my last home meet worth it, for sure,” Hinton said. “I would say I did that!
“I had a pretty good week of training. Coach (Derek Yush) gave me a light ball to work with to help me with my speed, which I absolutely hate. It’s hard to feel my technique with a light ball, but it worked. He obviously knows what he’s doing with helping us peak at the right times. I told my family I had some great practices this week and that I knew I was going to hit a big one today. It just came out and felt great.”
Like Hinton, Bliss has emerged as an All-American contender outdoors for the first time in her career after wrapping up Saturday’s LSU Invitational as the NCAA’s No. 7-ranked shot putter this season after posting a top throw of 56-9 ¼ in the final round to take the title by nearly six feet over Texas A&M’s NCAA Indoor weight throw champion Brea Garrett in second place at 50-11 ½.
While Hinton set her hammer throw school record for the first time at the “Battle on the Bayou” earlier this year, Bliss set her previous shot put school record of 55-11 at the “Battle on the Bayou” a season ago.
A native of Portage, Ind., Bliss posted a strong series with marks of 53-5 in the second round and 54-10 ¾ in the fifth round before raising her school record by more than 10 inches with her lifetime best of 56-9 ¼ during the sixth and final round of the competition. She will look to score big points for the Lady Tigers at the SEC Championships as the No. 3-ranked performer competing in the field in two weeks.
Ernest had struggled to return to full fitness this season after battling through the indoor season and much of the outdoor season with a left hamstring injury suffered toward the end of fall training.
But he erased any doubts of his credentials as a national championship contender this season when he smashed his personal best by more than two tenths of a second with a season-opening run of 20.14 to emerge as the No. 2-ranked 200-meter sprinter in the NCAA and the No. 3-ranked performer worldwide for the 2014 outdoor season.
Ernest took control of the race from the gun, coming off the turn with a commanding lead over the world-leading Dukes before powering past the finish line in 20.14 (+1.7) to eclipse his previous best of 20.38 set a year ago. Ernest’s winning time of 20.14 on Saturday is also second only to Tiger great Xavier Carter’s school record of 20.02 set during his freshman season in 2005.
Dukes, who entered the meet with an NCAA-leading and World-leading time of 19.97 set in his season opener at the Florida Relays on April 3, was trailing Ernest throughout the race and pulled up near the finish line as he dropped into fourth in the heat and seventh overall with a time of 20.97. Florida’s Arman Hall followed Ernest across the finish line in the first heat with a time of 20.40 to take second place overall in the event, while Florida’s Antwan Wright won the second heat in 20.81 to claim third place in the final standings.
“This is the best I’ve felt all year, probably since November. I’m still not 100 percent, probably running at about 90 percent right now,” Ernest said of his recovery following the meet. “My plan was to be the first one off of the turn and just try to stay relaxed and run through the line the best I could. I’m not in the shape I want to be in right now, so I knew my best chance was to be first coming off the turn. Those guys (Dedric Duke and Arman Hall) are strong, so I knew I had to be leading coming off the turn. I used my 100 speed to get to that point.
“This is probably my first month all season of being able to practice with no real setbacks. I’ve just got to keep working in training to get back to where I need to be for these meets coming up.”
Also cracking the Top 10 of the NCAA rankings with her performance on Senior Day was Lady Tiger senior Lynnika Pitts as she leaped to a wind-legal personal best of 43 feet, 1 inch in a runner-up finish in the triple jump in her final competition as a Lady Tiger at the Bernie Moore Track Stadium.
LSU’s NCAA Indoor bronze medalist smashed her outdoor PR with a wind-legal jump of 43-1 (+2.0) in the second round to finish runner-up to the winning wind-aided mark of 44-6 ¾ by Florida’s Ciarra Brewer in the last round of the competition. Pitts also posted a wind-legal mark of 42-9 ¾ (+1.9) in the fifth round that also bettered her previous PR of 41-11 ½ entering her regular-season finale.
By jumping 43-1 at the LSU Invitational, Pitts heads to the championship season as the NCAA’s No. 9-ranked triple jumper this season and the No. 8-ranked performer outdoors in school history.
Tiger junior Jeremy Tuttle saved his best meet for last heading into the championship season after winning the men’s javelin throw with a seasonal-best of 217-3 and taking third place as the top collegian with his PR of 216-8 in the men’s hammer throw as he starts to peak at the right time of the season. Tuttle’s top throw of 216-8 in the hammer ranks No. 4 on LSU’s all-time outdoor performance list in the event.
Senior Nikita Tracey and junior Chanice Chase each won event titles on Saturday while setting outdoor personal bests as Chase clocked 57.23 to beat Miami’s Jamika Glades (57.50) to the finish line in the women’s 400-meter hurdles and Tracey raced to a time of 2 minutes, 6.49 seconds to take the tape ahead of Miami’s Taneisha Cordell (2:06.87) in the women’s 800 meters.
Junior All-American and NCAA Championship contender Rodney Brown won his fourth-straight discus title on Saturday with a series-best of 207-10 as he will next defend the SEC Outdoor crown he won a year ago with a title-clinching mark of 203-1 at the conference meet. Brown has now eclipsed the 200-foot mark in five of his last six appearances that includes a school record of 210-10 set at the Penn Relays last weekend.
The Tigers wrapped up Saturday’s LSU Invitational by earning the men’s 4x400-meter relay with their time of 3:07.08 as the team of junior Quincy Downing (46.82), freshman Blair Henderson (47.85), sophomore Fitzroy Dunkley (46.55) and sophomore Cyril Grayson (45.86) crossed the finish line ahead of Ole Miss in second place at 3:08.38, Texas A&M in third place at 3:09.52 and Florida in fourth place at 3:13.82.
Before leading the Tigers to their relay win, Dunkley jumped a wind-legal PR of 51-6 ½ (+0.7) for second place in the men’s triple jump and Henderson raced to a PR of 3:48.89 for fifth place in the men’s 1,500 meters.
Other LSU athletes setting personal bests during Saturday’s regular-season finale include senior Toshika Sylvester (23.57) in the 200 meters, junior Philip Primeaux (3:50.76) in the 1,500 meters, sophomore David Collins (186-9) in the hammer, sophomores Terry Hughes (203-6) and Garret LeBouef (190-10) in the javelin, sophomore Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake (10.42) in the 100 meters, and freshmen Jeremy Octeau (167-1) in the discus, Jonathan Pitt (49-9 ¼) in the triple jump, Danielle Mitchell (25.20) in the 200 meters and Katie Stevenson (5:48.11) in the 1,500 meters.
With the 2014 regular season now in the record books, the Tigers and Lady Tigers will take two weeks to prepare for the start of the championship season as they will next compete during the 2014 SEC Outdoor Track & Field Championships running from May 15-18 at the Kentucky Outdoor Track & Field Facility in Lexington, Ky.