JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The No. 6-ranked Lady Tigers kicked off the 2014 NCAA East Preliminary Rounds on Thursday with three qualifiers into the national semifinals to be held in Eugene, Oregon, in two weeks with senior Denise Hinton and freshmen Nataliyah Friar and Rebekah Wales leading the charge for the LSU Track & Field teams at North Florida’s Hodges Stadium.
Hinton earned her spot in the NCAA semifinals of the women’s hammer throw for the second-straight season, while Friar qualified in the women’s long jump and Wales advanced in the women’s javelin throw as each will make their debuts at 2014 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships in their first season with the Lady Tigers.
They are the first to join LSU’s contingent heading to the semifinal and final rounds of the NCAA Outdoor Championships that will be held June 11-14 at Oregon’s Hayward Field in Eugene.
In addition, nine Tigers and Lady Tigers have given themselves the opportunity to book their ticket to Eugene in Friday’s quarterfinals while advancing through the first round of qualifying in Thursday’s opener at North Florida. The Tigers qualified four quarterfinalists on the track, while the Lady Tigers qualified five athletes of their own into the second day of competition.
“We really had a great day today to get us off on the right foot at the national meet,” said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “We faced a few issues with the weather here early in the day, but our athletes were prepared and did what they had to do to get themselves to compete when it was their time to perform. We need to see that same kind of effort from our group throughout the weekend.
“We always approach this meet as a seven-day NCAA Championship. We had a great first day today, now it’s time to come back tomorrow and focus on what it is we need to do to advance through the rounds.”
The Top 12 finishers in each open and relay event competing at Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville this weekend will earn the right to compete for a national championship in their season finale in Eugene in two weeks.
Friar, an NCAA Indoor finalist in the long jump earlier this season, advanced to the national semifinal outdoors after jumping a wind-legal personal best of 20 feet, 5 ¾ inches for eighth place in Thursday’s quarterfinal at the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds. Her jump of 20-5 ¾ in the third round of qualifying earned her three more jumps in Thursday’s quarterfinal and a spot in the NCAA semifinals to be held in two weeks.
Friar entered the meet as the No. 32 seed in the field with her previous personal best of 20-3 set earlier this season, but soared to a new outdoor best to take eighth place and earn her ticket on the plane to Eugene.
Following a weather delay of 3 hours, 5 minutes to start the day, Hinton became the first LSU athlete to earn her spot in the NCAA semifinals when she threw her series-best mark of 196-6 for 10th place in the women’s hammer throw. Senior teammate Karen Henning also advanced to the quarterfinal round, where she finished in 16th place overall with a top mark of 189-4 during the competition.
It marks the second-straight season in which Hinton will compete in the NCAA semifinal after finishing in 21st place overall at Hayward Field a season ago. She has her sights set on claiming All-American honors outdoors for the first time in her collegiate career as the NCAA’s No. 4-ranked hammer thrower this season with her school-record mark of 218-0.
Wales wrapped up Thursday’s action for LSU Track & Field by turning in a qualifying performance in the women’s javelin throw, posting her series-best of 162-9 in the fourth round of throws to move up two spots from 12th place into 10th place in the event standings. She was unable to improve on that mark in the fifth round before passing in the sixth round to earn an 11th-place finish overall in the final standings.
“Denise got us off to a great start today by qualifying in the hammer, and Nataliyah and Rebekah, two of our young freshmen, continued that late tonight with qualifying performances to finish off what was a great day for our teams to start the meet,” Shaver said. “They’ve now given themselves the opportunity to help us score the points we need when we go to Eugene in a couple of weeks.”
LSU’s stable of 400-meter hurdlers kicked off an outstanding day of qualifying on the track for the Tigers and Lady Tigers as all four advanced to Friday’s national quarterfinals.
Lining up in the third of six qualifying heats in the men’s 400-meter hurdles, Tiger junior Quincy Downing blistered the blue oval at Hodges Stadium with a personal best of 50.54 seconds to take the tape in the race with the fastest time of the day by nearly a half second over the rest of the field. Downing smashed his previous best of 51.07 entering the meet with the No. 8-ranked time in school history in the event.
Downing beat North Carolina’s Javonte Lipsey (51.06) to the finish line in the third heat, while also finishing nearly a half second clear of Indiana State’s Max Tuttle (50.95) as his closest competitor in qualifying.
“I was still a little disappointed with my performance at SECs, but I had faith in myself that I could come out here and run fast after having a couple good weeks of training coming into the meet,” Downing said. “It was a pretty good race for me. Technically, everything was sound going to the last two hurdles. I was just trying to stay focused and get over those two alright.
“I didn’t want to do anything to mess up at that point, so I was probably a little bit hesitant. I still kept form as best I could. I kind of eased up going over the finish line, so I know my time could have been better.”
Perhaps inspired by Downing’s qualifying run in the men’s prelims, senior All-American Nikita Tracey followed by running the fastest time of the day in the opening round of the women’s 400-meter hurdles with a near personal best of her own at 56.13 to win the second of six heats. Tracey outdistanced the rest of the field in her race by more than two seconds as she was followed across the line by automatic qualifiers Jamika Glades of Miami in 58.67 and freshman teammate Bryiana Richardson of LSU in 58.63.
Richardson dropped her personal best in the race by nearly a half second to qualify for Friday’s national quarterfinal as she lined up alongside Tracey with a PR of 59.06 set earlier this season to qualify for the meet.
“I just needed to get out fast from the start. There wasn’t a lot of competition, so I was just out there running to make it to the next round tomorrow,” Tracey said after her race. “The weather was good today, and the rain didn’t really affect me at all. So that was good. Today was just all about qualifying, so I’m happy to do that.”
With Tracey still warming down from her victory, Lady Tiger junior Chanice Chase then cruised to an easy victory in the fifth heat of the women’s 400-meter hurdles with an impressive opening time of 56.93 to earn her spot in the quarterfinal round with the fourth-fastest time of the day. Chase’s performance made it a perfect 4-for-4 for LSU in qualifying in the 400 hurdles on Thursday afternoon.
LSU’s teams also combined for three automatic qualifiers into the quarterfinal round of the 100-meter dash, led by Tiger junior Aaron Ernest (10.43) and Lady Tiger freshman Jada Martin (11.63) with a pair of runner-up finishes in their respective heats. Martin will be joined in the women’s quarterfinal by freshman teammate Rushell Harvey, who finished third in the same heat with a qualifying time of 11.74 (-0.6).
Norwood, who clocked a personal best of 45.17 in winning the SEC silver medal in his last race, won the fourth of six qualifying heats with a run of 45.88 that proved to be the fifth-fastest time for the day. Grayson then automatically qualified for the quarterfinal with a third-place finish in the sixth heat as he nearly set a personal best with his qualifying run of 46.47. Also running his first 400-meter race since suffering a hamstring injury at the Penn Relays was sophomore Darrell Bush, who was the fastest non-qualifier after clocking 46.93 for sixth place in the sixth heat.
Kicking off Thursday’s opener at the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds was Tiger junior Jeremy Tuttle, who threw a series-best of 204-3 on his third attempt for 25th place overall in the men’s javelin.
In other action, senior Toshika Sylvester ended in 30th place in the women’s 100 meters with a run of 11.88 (-0.6), freshman Blair Henderson finished in 38th place in the men’s 800 meters with a run of 1:49.76, freshman Morgan Schuetz finished in 38th place in the women’s 800 meters with a time of 2:08.03 and sophomore Andria Aguilar finished in 48th place in the women’s 1,500 meters with a time of 4:39.33.
In addition, senior Keri Emanuel finished in 16th place overall in the women’s long jump quarterfinals after opening the competition with a jump of 20-0 ¼, while sophomore Mayme Cook threw 152-7 for 23rd place, and sophomore Doren Welch threw 147-5 for 28th place as each joined Wales in the field for the women’s javelin throw.
The 2014 NCAA East Preliminary Rounds continue Friday morning as Tuttle will compete in LSU’s first event of the day in the men’s hammer throw at 9 a.m. CT. The action will continue in the afternoon at 2:30 p.m. with the field events followed by the first events on the track at 4:30 p.m. Flash Results will provide live results throughout the meet online at www.flashresults.com.
LSU’s Qualifiers for the NCAA Championships Semifinals in Eugene, Oregon
Note: All marks and times were achieved this weekend at the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds.