Track & Field Closes Strong at Weekend Meets
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Seniors Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake and Jada Martin took full advantage of their opportunity to compete in Saturday’s finale at the Tyson Invitational as both turned in the NCAA’s No. 3-ranked time in the 200-meter dash this season while winning their respective invitational heats at the Randal Tyson Track Center.
Their performance capped a weekend between the Tyson Invitational at the University of Arkansas and the Iowa State Classic in Ames in which LSU’s athletes combined for four top-five, 10 top-10 and 12 top-16 marks in the NCAA this season along with 17 indoor personal bests and eight performances that rank among the Top 10 of LSU’s all-time indoor list.
Martin arrived in Fayetteville this weekend with a No. 5 national ranking already to her credit after running a season-opening time of 23.05 seconds on the same track at the Razorback Invitational two weeks ago.
She cut one tenth of a second from her season-opening time in Saturday’s women’s 200-meter invitational when she edged USC’s Kendall Ellis (22.97) at the finish line with a winning 22.95 in the first heat. Martin’s run was good for second place overall after USC standout Deanna Hill took the second heat in 22.74.
With Oregon’s Dejah Stevens already holding the NCAA lead with her best this season of 22.65 from two weeks ago, Hill and Martin followed at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, with their efforts on Saturday as they were trailed in the standings by Ellis (22.97) in third place, Kentucky’s Kianna Gray (23.25) in fourth place and Oklahoma’s Ama Pipi (23.26) in fifth place to round out the Top 5 in the women’s invitational.
LSU sophomore Kortnei Johnson also clocked an indoor personal best of 23.26 for sixth place in the event to rank No. 14 nationally this year. That’s after running the sixth-fastest 60 meters in the NCAA this season with a personal best of 7.24 in Friday’s final at the Tyson Invitational.
Mitchell-Blake followed Martin with his season-opening 200 meters in the men’s invitational event and emerged with a No. 3-ranked time of his own in the NCAA rankings with an indoor personal best of 20.49.
After USC senior Just’N Thymes (20.47) and Trinidad & Tobago international Rondel Sorrillo (20.49) matched each other stride-for-stride in a 1-2 finish in the first heat, Mitchell-Blake made his much-anticipated debut in the second heat as he won comfortably at 20.49 ahead of USC’s Michael Norman (20.75) and Arkansas’ Kenzo Cotton (20.87).
Mitchell-Blake, the reigning SEC Indoor Champion and NCAA Indoor Silver Medalist in the men’s 200 meters, broke his previous indoor best of 20.51 he set at the SEC Indoor Championships last year with the No. 3 time in the country this season. Only the national-leading 20.46 by Tennessee’s Christian Coleman and Thymes’ 20.47 in the same event on Saturday separate Mitchell-Blake from the top of the NCAA rankings in 2017.
Mitchell-Blake solidified his hold on the No.3 spot on LSU’s all-time indoor list while closing the gap on Xavier Carter’s indoor school record of 20.30 from the 2006 season. An Olympic semifinalist with Team GB a season ago, he is also the fourth-fastest Brit to ever run the 200 meters indoors with Linford Christie holding the British record at 20.25 from the 1995 season.
Martin and Mitchell-Blake later returned to the track to lead both of LSU’s 4x400-meter relay teams to seasonal-best times ranking among the Top 7 in the national rankings this year in the final event of the meet.
The Lady Tigers were crowned the Tyson Invitational champions with a run of 3 minutes 32.33 seconds as they outlasted the likes of Baylor (3:32.73) and host Arkansas (3:32.81) to the finish line in the second section of the women’s invitational. Purdue finished fourth overall as winners of the first heat with a time of 3:34.48.
Martin split 53.76 on the third leg of LSU’s team that also featured junior Kymber Payne with a 54.21-second split on the leadoff leg, sophomore Rachel Misher with a 53.35-second split on the second leg and senior 400 standout Travia Jones with the fastest split of any runner in the field at 51.02 on the anchor leg. It was the Lady Tigers’ fastest relay indoors since 2012 when they ran bests of 3:31.55 and 3:31.89.
The Tigers later closed out the Tyson Invitational with a runner-up finish in the second heat of the men’s invitational relay as they posted the seventh-fastest time by a collegiate team this season at 3:05.68 to finish the event in sixth place overall. LSU trailed Arkansas (3:04.88), Texas (3:04.95), Florida (3:05.14), Texas Tech (3:05.49) and Iowa (3:05.62) in the final standings.
Like Martin, Mitchell-Blake also lined up third for the Tigers as he turned in a 46.99-second split on the relay after warming up with his season-opening performance in the 200-meter dash earlier in the day.
Sophomore Jaron Flournoy, who had a seasonal best of his own at 21.19 in the 200 meters on Saturday, ran leadoff before handing off to senior Michael Cherry for the fastest split of the day at 45.02 on the second leg. Senior LaMar Bruton anchored in 45.47 as the Tigers planted themselves firmly inside the Top 10 of the national rankings at 3:05.68.
Iowa State 800s
Meanwhile at the Iowa State Classic in Ames, three of LSU’s middle distance runners took a step toward NCAA Championship qualification while clocking top-10 times in the country at the Lied Recreational Center.
Richard Jones’ 7-year-old indoor school record of 1:47.78 in the men’s 800 meters was relegated to history when senior Blair Henderson moved into the top spot on LSU’s all-time list with an indoor PR of 1:47.34 to take third overall in the final event standings. Despite capturing the second heat ahead of BYU’s Abraham Alvarado (1:47.46) and Ole Miss’ Ryan Manahan (1:47.76), Henderson placed third with Georgetown’s Joseph White (1:46.44) and Middle Tennessee State’s Eliud Rutto (1:46.70) finishing 1-2 in the first heat.
Not only did Henderson ascend to the top of LSU’s school-record books with his fastest race indoors as an LSU Tiger, but he also emerged as the NCAA’s No. 9-ranked 800-meter runner on the men’s side this year.
Senior Morgan Schuetz and freshman Ruby Stauber also better positioned themselves for NCAA qualification while smashing their indoor personal bests with top-10 times in the women’s 800 meters. Schuetz eclipsed her previous best by more than one second with a run of 2:03.01 for third place, while Stauber finished fifth with a blistering 2:03.87 to cut nearly seven tenths of a second from her previous indoor PR.
A Baton Rouge native, Schuetz moved up three spots into the No. 3 position on LSU’s all-time indoor list in the women’s 800 meters with the seventh-fastest time by a collegian this indoor season. Stauber also cracked the Top 10 of the national rankings at No. 9 as she became the sixth-fastest Lady Tiger to ever run the 800 meters indoors.
Rounding out the field in the women’s 800 meters at the Iowa State Classic were BYU’s Shea Collinsworth (2:01.42) in first, Baylor’s Aaliyah Miller (2:02.89) in second, Iowa State’s Jasmine Staebler (2:03.08) in fourth.
Two other LSU athletes set personal bests during Saturday’s finales at the Tyson Invitational and Iowa State Classic as sophomore Erika Lewis joined her 800-meter teammates in running an indoor best of 2:10.86 at the Lied Recreational Center in Ames and freshman Christian Miller jumped a lifetime PR of 51 feet, 4 ½ inches in the triple jump at the Randal Tyson Track Center.
Other notable seasonal bests turned in Saturday at the Tyson Invitational included a jump of 40-6 ¼ by senior Nataliyah Friar in the triple jump to follow her seasonal best of 20-2 ½ in the long jump on Friday night. True freshman Cassondra Hall nearly matched her indoor PR with a heat-winning 23.79 in the early sections of the women’s 200-meter dash, while senior Rushell Harvey also ran 23.90 in the event.
Sophomore Brittany Kelly won the college section of the women’s high jump in LSU’s opening event of the day as she matched her seasonal best and indoor personal best with a first-attempt clearance at 5-8 ¾. Junior Da’Quan Bellard joined Miller in setting a seasonal best in the triple jump with his series-best of 49-5 ½.
LSU’s teams return home next weekend to play host to their annual LSU Twilight meet on Friday with the field events getting underway at 2:30 p.m. CT followed by the first preliminary races on the track at 3:30 p.m. A selected group of middle distance and distance runners will also make the trip to South Bend, Indiana, to compete at the Alex Wilson Invitational running next Saturday at Notre Dame’s Loftus Sports Center.
The Tigers and Lady Tigers have one last opportunity to prepare for the championship season next weekend ahead of their second trip to the Vanderbilt Multipurpose Facility this season as the 2017 SEC Indoor Track & Field Championships will run Feb. 24-25.