Kymber Payne (right) celebrates the 4x400-meter relay win with Travia Jones (left).
Harrison McClary

Lady Tigers Win Three Titles in SEC Indoor Finale

Will Stafford (@WillStaffordLSU)
Will Stafford (@WillStaffordLSU)
Associate SID

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Senior Jada Martin and junior Aleia Hobbs swept SEC sprint titles in the 60-meter and 200-meter dashes and the Lady Tigers captured the women’s 4x400-meter relay crown to highlight 14 All-SEC performances in Saturday’s finale at the 2017 SEC Indoor Track & Field Championships hosted by Vanderbilt.

The Lady Tigers repeated as runners-up in the women’s team race while scoring 94 points in two days of competition at the Vanderbilt Multipurpose Facility after totaling 67 points for second a year ago.

No. 4-ranked LSU matched its best finishes at the SEC Indoor Championships since last finishing runner-up in back-to-back seasons in 2012 and 2013. No. 2-ranked Arkansas defended its team title on the women’s side with 106.5 points for the meet, while No. 6 Kentucky trailed in third with 71 points, No. 3 Georgia followed in fourth with 64 points and No. 13 Ole Miss rounded out the Top 5 in fifth with 60.5 points.

The No. 8-ranked Tigers totaled 42 points for eighth place overall in the men’s team race as their Saturday was led by SEC Indoor Silver Medalist Blair Henderson in the men’s 800 meters and SEC Indoor Bronze Medalist Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake in the men’s 200 meters. Arkansas retained the men’s team title with 98 points, followed by Alabama (93), Texas A&M (76), Florida (76) and Ole Miss (76) in the Top 5.

LSU’s athletes captured three SEC event championships and took home 13 All-SEC certificates as medal winners in their events while making their final preparations for the NCAA Championships in two weeks.

Nine Lives

Hobbs won LSU’s ninth SEC Championship all-time in the women’s 60-meter dash in dramatic fashion as she took down Kentucky’s title favorite Javianne Oliver with the fastest race of her Lady Tiger career.

Hobbs was the top qualifier from Friday’s preliminary round when she ran a personal best of 7.21 seconds to move into a tie for the No. 4 spot in the NCAA rankings this season. Oliver had owned the SEC’s leading time and the No. 2-ranked time nationally this season at 7.18 since competing on her home track in Lexington at the Rod McCravy Memorial back on Jan. 20.

The women’s 60 meters was an SEC final sure to define LSU’s title hopes for the rest of the afternoon with four other Lady Tigers occupying the eight lanes at the Vanderbilt Multipurpose Facility as Martin, the reigning SEC Champion Mikiah Brisco, sophomore Kortnei Johnson and freshman Cassondra Hall all lined up alongside their teammate.

Hobbs was confirmed as the SEC sprint queen for 2017 just 7.18 seconds after the gun fired as she edged Oliver (7.22) at the finish line for the win. Johnson picked up an All-SEC third-place finish as she scored bronze in 7.27, followed by Alabama’s Quanesha Burks (7.28) in fourth place, Martin (7.31) in fifth place, Brisco (7.31) in sixth place, Hall (7.32) in seventh place and Georgia’s Kate Hall (7.35) in eighth place.

“I did (know). When I ducked, I looked to my right and saw that she (Javianne Oliver) wasn’t close enough to be ahead of me,” Hobbs recalled believing she beat Oliver to the finish line. “When I didn’t see her (ahead), I was kind of like, ‘I think I won.’ I kind of felt like I did. That was a special moment for me.”

Saturday’s SEC title was a long time coming for Hobbs after battling back from various injuries since the end of her freshman season in 2015 as she tied Oliver for the No. 2 spot in the NCAA rankings this season.

It marked the second-straight season for a Lady Tiger to be crowned the SEC’s 60-meter champion as Hobbs took the title won by Brisco a year ago during her sophomore season in 2016. She also joined the likes of LSU greats D’Andre Hill (1996), Peta-Gaye Dowdie (2000), Sa’Donna Thornton (2001), Muna Lee (2002, 2004), Kelly-Ann Baptiste (2008), Samantha Henry (2009) and Kimberlyn Duncan (2013) as winners of the event.

“I really just think about last year and not running in SEC finals or anything like that,” Hobbs said of her battles with injury since her freshman year. “I finally got back to an SEC final and won it. There was just a lot of that going through my head. It’s kind of crazy to think how far I’ve come. This is big for me, but definitely more to come in a couple of weeks at nationals.”

Sprint Sweep

LSU’s women swept sprint titles at the SEC Indoor Championships for an impressive seventh time in school history when Martin returned to the track and matched her indoor PR of 22.92 to take the second section and claim the 200-meter crown. She blew away the field by nearly four tenths of a second as Kentucky’s Jasmine Camacho-Quinn won silver with a time of 23.31 in the same heat.

The Lady Tigers added 11 total points in the event as Johnson crossed the finish line fourth in the second heat and eighth overall with a time of 23.55 in the final after qualifying Friday with a time of 23.61.

Martin certainly lived up to her billing as the SEC-title favorite entering the event with a previous seasonal best of 22.95 as she was the only sprinter in the conference to break 23 seconds in 2017. She left Nashville with the 17th SEC Indoor title in LSU history as she added her name to a list including Dawn Sowell (1989), Esther Jones (1989, 1990), Hill (1996), Astia Walker (1997, 1998), Dowdie (1999, 2000), Lee (2001, 2002, 2003), Hazelann Regis (2005), Henry (2009) and Duncan (2011, 2012, 2013).

“You never know what to expect from other people coming into a meet, so I didn’t really want to leave anything to chance,” Martin said of her approach to her final SEC Indoor Championships. “You know the times are going to be fast through the rounds and you have to be ready to go from the start. I wanted to go ahead and put a good time out there in the prelim so I could watch and see what I had to do.”

Relay Queens

Winning the 200-meter title wasn’t enough for Martin as she added a second title when she ran the second leg of LSU’s 4x400-meter relay team that struck gold in the final event of the meet with a seasonal best.

Teaming with junior Kymber Payne on the leadoff leg, sophomore Rachel Misher on the third leg and senior Travia Jones on the anchor leg, the Lady Tigers took down many of the nation’s top relay teams with a run of 3 minutes, 31.50 seconds to win their 13th SEC Indoor Championship in the event all-time and their first since 2012.

Florida sat back in second place with a time of 3:32.06 with Arkansas taking third place in 3:32.27 and NCAA leader Texas A&M following more than one second back in fourth place overall in 3:32.56. Their victory put the Lady Tigers at 94 points for the meet, an improvement of 27 points from their second-place total at the SEC Indoor Championships a year ago.

Record Broken

Saturday’s finale at the SEC Indoor Championships also saw one long-standing school record be broken as senior All-American Morgan Schuetz became the fastest miler in school history in a runner-up finish.

Schuetz ran on the shoulder of Missouri’s Karissa Schweizer for much of the race as they separated themselves from the rest of the pack on the final lap. Schweizer crossed the finish line first in 4:37.44 to take the title, while Schuetz earned yet another All-SEC certificate in her distinguished career with a new school-record time of 4:38.45. Mississippi State’s Rhianwedd Price was third in 4:39.89.

Schuetz took down the 32-year-old school record of 4:38.67 that was previously set by Christine Slythe during the 1985 season. Slythe remains the Lady Tigers’ only SEC Indoor Champion in the mile from that season.

Perhaps a warm-up for the distance medley relay to follow, Schuetz later anchored the Lady Tigers to fifth place as she teamed with sophomore Hollie Parker (1,200 meters), sophomore Oksana Lawrence (400 meters) and sophomore Erika Lewis (800 meters) in her final race at the SEC Indoor Championships. Schuetz carried the baton on the mile anchor as they ran the sixth-fastest time in school history at 11:17.28.

Silver Medalists

Silver was the medal of choice for LSU’s middle distance runners as Henderson and freshman Ruby Stauber swept second-place finishes in the men’s and women’s 800 meters for their first career All-SEC honors.

Henderson ran the second-fastest indoor 800 meters of his career at 1:47.53 as he moved from fourth to second on the homestretch for the silver medal in the men’s final behind Florida’s Andres Arroyo (1:47.18). The women’s final saw Stauber finish comfortably in second place with a time of 2:04.31 behind Texas A&M’s Jazmine Fray in first at 2:02.62.

Henderson later helped the Tigers score an eighth-place finish in the men’s DMR as he ran the 800-meter leg for a team that clocked 9:51.08 along with junior Jack Wilkes (1,200 meters), freshman Xavier Mulugata (400 meters) and sophomore Dajour Braxton (mile). Braxton finished eighth in the 3,000 meters on Friday night.

Bronze Medalists

Brisco captured her first All-SEC award in the first final of the afternoon as she took third place in the women’s 60-meter hurdles with a time of 8.06, relinquishing the SEC title she won a season ago. Kentucky’s Jasmine Camacho-Quinn was crowned champion for 2017 with a winning time of 8.02 ahead of Alabama’s Vanessa Clerveaux in second place with a time of 8.05.

Brisco was one of three finalists scoring 13 points for LSU in the sprint hurdles as freshmen Tonea Marshall (8.21) and Brittley Humphrey (8.24) placed fifth and sixth, respectively, with seasonal-best times.

Mitchell-Blake also surrendered his SEC Indoor crown in the men’s 200-meter dash on Saturday when he bagged the bronze medal as the third-place finisher with a time of 20.57. A seven-time All-SEC performer, LSU’s star sprinter followed Jereem Richards of Alabama in first with a meet record of 20.34 and Christian Coleman of Tennessee in second with a time of 20.57 as the men’s 200-meter medalists.

Sophomore Jaron Flournoy picked up two additional points for the Tigers in the event as he placed seventh overall in 21.25 just one day after qualifying with an indoor personal best of 20.98 in the preliminary round.

SEC Scorers

Two members of the Lady Tigers’ 4x400-meter relay team also combined for nine points in the women’s 400-meter final as Jones took fourth overall with a time of 53.09 and Misher followed in fifth with a second PR in as many days at 53.31. Jones led Misher in a 2-3 finish in the first of two sections while lining up in the SEC Indoor final for the first time in their careers.

Other scorers for LSU’s teams on the final day of the championship were Mitchell-Blake (6.72) in sixth, senior Tremayne Acy (6.74) in seventh and sophomore Donte Jackson (6.75) in eighth in the men’s 60-meter dash; freshman Christian Miller with a jump of 51-0 ½ for sixth place in the men’s triple jump and sophomore Chadd Burns with a personal-best clearance of 16-6 ¾ for seventh place in the men’s pole vault.

The Tigers added four points with a fifth-place finish in the men’s 4x400-meter relay as their team of Flournoy, senior Michael Cherry, Mitchell-Blake and senior LaMar Bruton clocked a seasonal best of 3:05.45 for No. 8 in the NCAA rankings this season. Junior Briana Kelly scored the first points of the day for the Lady Tigers by tying for sixth place in the women’s high jump with her clearance of 5-6 ½.

Up Next

With the SEC Indoor Championships now in the record books, the Tigers and Lady Tigers will prepare themselves over the next two weeks to compete at the NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships as they will wrap up the 2017 indoor season on March 10-11 at the Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium in College Station, Texas.

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