LEXINGTON, Ky. – Senior Nikita Tracey outlasted the field in her heat of the 400-meter hurdles and junior Aaron Ernest sprinted to an easy victory in his heat of the 200-meter dash to lead six finals qualifiers for LSU Track & Field during Friday’s action at the 2014 SEC Outdoor Track & Field Championships at the Kentucky Outdoor Facility.
Both ran the fourth-fastest times of the day in their respective events with Ernest cruising to an easy win in 20.80 seconds and Tracey crossing the finish line in 57.73 to advance to Sunday’s finals.
Ernest will be joined in the men’s 200-meter final by sophomore Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, who grabbed the ninth and final qualifying spot into Sunday’s finale after clocking 21.03 for second place in his heat in his first 200-meter race of the 2014 season. Tracey will line up alongside junior teammate Chanice Chase in the final of the women’s 400-meter hurdles after Chase followed Tracey across the finish line in their race in 58.07.
Two other athletes also advanced to Sunday’s championship finals as junior Quincy Downing qualified on time in the men’s 400-meter hurdles with a run of 52.36 and redshirt freshman Morgan Schuetz secured a place in her first career SEC final in the women’s 800 meters with a time of 2 minutes, 8.79 seconds in her debut at the SEC Outdoor Championships.
It proved to be a productive round of qualifying for the Tigers and Lady Tigers with six athletes advancing to championship finals on a cold and windy night at the Kentucky Outdoor Track & Field Facility.
“I thought our athletes did a great job of preparing themselves today and executing their races well on what was really a tough day to qualify with the conditions we had here,” said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “The way they competed was something I’m especially proud of. We had a couple of athletes (Aaron Ernest and Nikita Tracey) who won their heats that we thought would probably make it through to the finals, but we also had a couple (Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake and Morgan Schuetz) who maybe weren’t expected to get through but got that last spot.
“Those that got through really earned the right to come back here on Sunday and compete on what should be a better day to run. We’re looking forward to seeing what they can do for our team in a couple of days.”
Ernest and Mitchell-Blake are both returning to form after suffering injuries that limited their production during the indoor season and early in the outdoor campaign. Ernest actually ran his first 200-meter race for 2014 in LSU’s regular-season finale on May 3 when he sprinted to a wind-legal personal best of 20.14 that stands as the No. 2-ranked time in the NCAA this spring.
After taking his mark in lane No. 3 in the fourth of six qualifying heats on Friday night, Ernest took control of the race from the start, easing up off the curve and crossing the finish line in 20.80 (+1.7) that was almost half a second ahead of Georgia’s Maurice Freeman (21.25) as his closest competitor in the heat.
Ernest’s heat-winning 20.80 held up as the fourth-fastest time of the qualifying round as he and Mitchell-Blake (21.03) will line up against a field in the final that also features Florida’s Dedric Dukes (20.34), Texas A&M’s Prezel Hardy, Jr. (20.71), Ole Miss’ Jalen Miller (20.76), Texas A&M’s Shavez Hart (20.91), Auburn’s Teray Smith (20.92), Auburn’s Khalil Henderson (21.02) and Georgia’s Jonathan Smith (21.14).
Mitchell-Blake had not lined up in the 200 meters this season before Friday’s qualifier, but earned a spot in the SEC Outdoor final for the second-straight season following his seventh-place finish a year ago.
“The problem was just trying to stay warm out here while we were waiting to race,” Ernest said following his race. “We got out here about 30 minutes before our race, so I was just trying to stay warmed up as best that I could, keeping my sweats on, wearing two pairs of sweats and things like that. With the indoor (Carl Maddox Field House) being under construction earlier in the year, we’re kind of used to training in the cold, so it’s a thing we’re used to really. You just have to come out here mentally strong and ready to run when your name is called.”
The Lady Tigers featured the top two seeded athletes in the second of three heats in the women’s 400-meter hurdles, and both Tracey (57.73) and Chase (58.07) cruised into Sunday’s final after finishing 1-2 in the race as Tracey clocked the fourth-fastest time and Chase posted the fifth-fastest time through the qualifying round.
They will be lining up against a field in the final that features a host of All-America contenders with Texas A&M’s Shamier Little (56.34), Kentucky’s Leah Nugent (56.97), Kentucky’s Kendra Harrison (57.69), Texas A&M’s Janeil Bellille (58.22), South Carolina’s Tamera Harris (58.62), Auburn’s Sashel Brown (59.45) and South Carolina’s Tyler Brockington (59.55).
Downing advanced to the final of the men’s 400-meter hurdles for the second-straight season as his time of 52.39 earned him a third-place finish in the third heat and fifth-place overall in the qualifying round.
Schuetz has qualified for her first career SEC final in her debut at the SEC Outdoor Championships as he qualifying time of 2:08.79 was just a split second shy of her lifetime personal best of 2:08.02 set earlier this season at the LSU Alumni Gold. She finished in 13th place in 800-meter qualifying in her SEC Championships debut indoors earlier this year.
In other action on Friday, sophomore David Collins finished in 16th place in the men’s hammer throw with a mark of 180 feet, 6 inches, and freshman Blair Henderson took 18th place in the men’s 800-meter preliminaries with a time of 1:51.80.
In addition, freshman Bryiana Richardson clocked 59.90 for 11th place and freshman Ka’Lynn Jupiter ran 1:01.89 for 14th place in qualifying for the women’s 400 hurdles as they trailed their Lady Tiger teammates with the final standings. Also, senior Toshika Sylvester (24.04) took 16th place, freshman Rushell Harvey (24.11) finished in 20th place and sophomore Kiersten Duncan (24.52) was 22nd place in the women’s 200 meters.
Saturday’s action at the 2014 SEC Outdoor Track & Field Championships continue at noon CT with the first field events of the day followed by the first qualifying races on the track at 2:45 p.m. Fans can watch the squads in action as ESPN3.com will feature live streaming video of Saturday’s events from 2:40-5:50 p.m. Fans can also receive live updates of the Tigers and Lady Tigers competing Saturday by following @LSUTrackField on Twitter and by liking LSU Track & Field on Facebook.