Stadium Relay Record Falls at Alumni Gold
BATON ROUGE – UCLA’s 29-year old Bernie Moore Track Stadium record in the men’s 4x400-meter relay was erased from the history books when the LSU Tigers dropped their NCAA-leading time to 3 minutes, 0.38 seconds and finished more than five seconds ahead of the field in the final event of Saturday’s LSU Alumni Gold meet.
LSU had already set the standard this season as national leaders in the event entering the weekend after winning the Texas Relays title three weeks ago with a previous seasonal-best time of 3:01.83.
The Bruins set the previous stadium record of 3:00.55 nearly three decades ago when they were crowned the NCAA Champions in the event in 1987, but LSU’s defending NCAA Outdoor Champions and reigning NCAA Indoor Champions wrote their own chapter in the stadium’s illustrious history as the fastest relay team to ever line up at the Bernie Moore Track Stadium.
The Tigers were unmatched in a field that featured four of the 11 fastest 4x400-meter relay teams in the country in 2016 along with No. 2-ranked Texas, No. 6-ranked Mississippi State and No. 11-ranked Tennessee.
Junior LaMar Bruton gave the Tigers the lead at the first exchange with a strong 45.85-second carry on the leadoff leg before fellow junior Michael Cherry extended their lead with a team-leading 44.73-second split for the second leg. Senior Cyril Grayson also broke the 45-second barrier with a 44.99 carry on the third leg, and senior Fitzroy Dunkley anchored in 44.81 for the second-fastest time in school history at 3:00.38.
They finished more than five seconds ahead of Mississippi State in second place with a time of 3:05.48, followed by Texas in third place at 3:06.06, Southern Mississippi in fourth place at 3:10.14 and Arizona in fifth place at 3:10.37. The Tigers (3:00.38) are now nearly two seconds clear of Texas’ seasonal-best time of 3:02.18 at the top of the NCAA rankings for 2016.
The 2016 Tigers are now just under eight tenths of a second off of LSU’s 11-year-old school-record and collegiate-record time of 2:59.59 set by the team of Reggie Dardar, Kelly Willie, Bennie Brazell and Xavier Carter in the NCAA final back in 2005 when they also beat the Bruins’ previous collegiate record of 2:59.91 set in 1988.
“This has got to be the best relay I’ve ever run on. If we don’t break that record, that’s not good enough for me,” Cherry said of he believes the team can achieve this season. “I’ve told them I’m going to give them a 44 every time on my split, so I don’t want to run anything slower than a 44 for the rest of the season. They can count on me to bring it, no matter what leg I’m on.”
The Tigers warmed up for the relay with their season debuts in the 400-meter dash earlier in the day as Cherry (45.17) and Dunkley (45.52) both set personal bests to finish as the top two collegians in the field behind a season-opening 45.01 by LSU’s 2015 NCAA Champion Vernon Norwood. Cherry’s 45.17 tied for the No. 2 spot in the NCAA rankings this season and moved him to No. 7 on LSU’s all-time outdoor performance list for his event, while Dunkley cracked the NCAA’s Top 5 this season at No. 5 with his 45.52.
Bruton (46.28) and Grayson (46.39) finished 1-2 in the first heat of the two-section final to place seventh and eighth, respectively, among collegians with their first 400-meter races of the outdoor season.
The Tigers turned in three NCAA-leading performances at the LSU Alumni Gold on Saturday as they beat their seasonal-best time in the 4x100-meter relay from last week by one one-hundredth of a second, and junior Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake ran the fastest time this season by a collegian under all conditions in his first outdoor 200-meter dash for the Tigers in nearly two years.
Just one week after becoming the first collegiate team this season to break 39 seconds in the sprint relay with a time of 38.95 seconds at the Texas Invitational, the Tigers were a split-second faster on Saturday running 38.94 with a team of junior Tinashe Mutanga, freshman Jaron Flournoy, junior Tremayne Acy and Mitchell-Blake running anchor.
Mitchell-Blake took the stick in third place at the final exchange before blowing past the Tiger Olympians (39.15) and Texas (39.24) down the stretch to win it with a new NCAA-leading time of 38.94 in the event.
Mitchell-Blake later ran his season-opening race in the 200-meter dash while making his first appearance in the event since winning the NCAA Indoor silver medal in the event in March. He made the most of his chance as he crossed the finish line with a wind-aided 20.14 (+3.6) ahead of Clemson’s Tevin Hester (20.34w) and Tennessee’s Christian Coleman (20.45w) in the second heat.
“The weather definitely made it conducive to run fast, so I’m grateful for that once again. Training has been going well, and I was able to execute an OK race today,” Mitchell-Blake said. “I feel like there’s still a lot more I can improve on, which has got me excited about the future. I’m just hoping to stay healthy and keep training hard, and we’ll see what the future holds.”
Mitchell-Blake was among three Tigers opening up in the 200 meters for the first time outdoors as Acy and fellow junior Renard Howell both lined up in the event after coming back from injury. Acy was impressive with a winning wind-aided time of 20.50 (+2.5) in the first heat as he placed fourth overall while tying for the No. 7 spot in the NCAA rankings this season. Howell cracked the Top 15 nationally for 2016 as the 14th-fastest 200-meter sprinter this season with a time of 20.60w in the same race for seventh overall.
Flournoy also entered the Top 10 of the NCAA rankings with the fastest all conditions 200 meters of his career as he followed Mitchell-Blake across the finish line in the second heat with a windy 20.53 to tie for No. 10 in the country this season. The freshman from Detroit, Michigan, earned a fifth-place finish in the event while eclipsing his previous wind-aided best of 20.68 set at the Texas Invitational last weekend.
Lady Tiger junior Morgan Schuetz nearly gave the hometown fans a fourth NCAA-leading performance to cheer as she slashed nearly one full second off of her lifetime personal best in the women’s 800 meters.
Biding her time behind the likes of LSU’s former NCAA Champion Natoya Goule and former All-American Charlene Lipsey for much of the race, Schuetz made her move with 200 meters to go as she passed Goule down the homestretch and followed Lipsey (2:01.88) across the finish line with a PR of 2:02.29 as the top collegian. Goule trailed in third place at 2:03.40, followed by former Lady Tiger LaTavia Thomas in fourth at 2:03.58.
Schuetz’s 2:02.29 is just over three tenths of a second off the national-leading time of 2:01.97 held by Oklahoma State’s Kaela Edwards as she now ranks No. 2 nationally in the women’s 800 meters. She also moves into the No. 5 spot on LSU’s all-time outdoor performance list in the event after breaking her previous best of 2:03.12 set at the LSU Invitational last May.
“We’ve been really preparing for this meet, we knew it was going to be really competitive. I guess I was hoping to run a PR, but didn’t want to psych myself out or anything,” Schuetz said. “I felt great. I was focusing on staying close to Charlene (Lipsey) and (Natoya) Goule. I need to believe in myself more when I’m running against girls like that. Today gives me a lot of confidence.”
The Lady Tigers were also impressive with their performance in the relays on Saturday afternoon as they kicked off the afternoon session by winning the women’s 4x100-meter relay in 43.36 before wrapping up with a second-place finish in the women’s 4x400-meter relay with their seasonal-best time of 3:31.66.
Head coach Dennis Shaver adjusted the Lady Tigers’ order in the 4x100-meter relay for the first time this season as he elected to anchor the once-injured sophomore Aleia Hobbs. She joined up with fellow sophomore Mikiah Brisco, freshman Kortnei Johnson and junior Jada Martin to run a blistering 43.36 to finish well ahead of Texas (43.81) in second place and Tennessee (43.85) in third place.
Brisco later cracked the NCAA’s Top 5 with a seasonal-best performance in the 100-meter dash as she sprinted to a wind-aided career best of 11.17 (+3.5) for third place in the event and No. 5 nationally this spring. She added a seasonal best in the 100-meter hurdles with a wind-aided PR of 13.18 (+2.7) to place third among collegians and tie for No. 16 in the NCAA rankings.
Martin finished her first 100-meter race this season on the cusp of the NCAA’s Top 10 as her wind-aided time of 11.24 (+3.5) tied for the No. 11 spot nationally. Johnson later broke 23 seconds in the 200-meter dash for the first time in her collegiate career with a windy 22.98 (+3.1) to win the first heat and finish behind only Tennessee’s NCAA Indoor Champion Felicia Brown (22.57w) from the second heat in the event.
After clocking a personal-best time of 53.25 in the 400 meters earlier in the day, junior Travia Jones led off the Lady Tigers to their fastest 4x400-meter relay of the season with a 53.15 split on the leadoff leg.
Jones teamed with Martin (53.61) on the second leg, freshman Rachel Misher (52.21) on the third leg and senior Chanice Chase (52.69) on the anchor leg to become the No. 7-ranked mile relay team in the NCAA with a runner-up finish to Texas’ winning 3:27.29 in the event. Texas anchored Courtney Okolo, who set the collegiate record in the women’s 400 meters during the meet with her stadium-record time of 49.71.
Junior All-American Rebekah Wales led the Lady Tigers’ efforts in the field events as she raised her seasonal best to 178 feet, 1 inch to win the women’s javelin title, her third victory in four appearances this spring. Her winning throw of 178-1 came on her very first throw of the competition as she finished more than 12 feet ahead of Tennessee’s Maria Jimenez (165-9) in the final standings. Wales moved into the NCAA’s Top 10 as the No. 10-ranked javelin thrower nationally with her performance.
Fellow junior All-American Nataliyah Friar set a new seasonal best of her own in a runner-up finish in the women’s invitational long jump when she soared a wind-aided 20-9 (+2.3) on her sixth and final attempt for the day to finish second behind Iowa State’s Jhoanmy Luque (20-11 ¼w). Friar briefly held the lead in the final round before Luque ended with her mark of 20-11 ¼ (+5.0) thanks to a strong tailwind.
Leading the way for the Tigers were senior Terry Hughes and junior Johnnie Jackson in the throws as Hughes unleashed a big personal best of 210-6 to finish sixth in the javelin and Jackson threw a six-foot season best of 170-7 for fourth place in the discus before he posted a mark of 215-11 for second place overall in the hammer throw.
“When you combine great weather with great competition, you’re going to see some outstanding performances. We saw a lot of that today,” Shaver said following the meet. “We’re continuing to make great strides in both our teams as we get ready for the championship season. That’s what it’s all about for us, making sure we’re hitting our peak performance at the right time of the season.”
Other athletes setting new PRs were Dajour Braxton (3:48.06) in the 1,500 meters, Jonathan Nelsen (15-10) in the pole vault, Marvalyn Vernon (166-8) in the hammer and Jack Wilkes (1:49.74) in the 800 meters.
Six runners also set personal bests in the 5,000 meters as the afternoon came to a close, including DC Lipani (15:16.40), Bryan Stamey (15:21.75), Christian Johnson (15:43.40) and Daniel Tanner (16:02.33) in the men’s 5k and both Rebecca Little (17:51.82) and Hannah Bourque (18:43.74) in the women’s 5k before the running of the 4x400-meter relays.The Tigers and Lady Tigers will next play host to the second-annual LSU Invitational next Saturday, April 30, as they welcome the likes of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Miami and Texas A&M to Baton Rouge for their regular-season finale at the Bernie Moore Track Stadium. The 2016 SEC Outdoor Track & Field Championships follow May 12-14 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.