Wales, Payne Post NCAA Leaders at Texas Relays
AUSTIN, Texas – Junior Kymber Payne struck gold in the women’s 400-meter hurdles and senior Rebekah Wales scored the silver in the women’s javelin with a pair of NCAA-leading personal bests to set the tone for LSU’s teams during Friday’s action at the 90th Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays at Mike A. Myers Stadium.
The night even saw the Tigers pick up LSU’s first relay title of the meet as they snapped a nine-year drought with their first men’s distance medley relay championship at the Texas Relays since 2008.
In the morning session, the Tigers and Lady Tigers blew away the field in 4x100-meter relay qualifying while advancing to the men’s and women’s finals with the fastest times of the day, while sophomore All-American Kortnei Johnson finished off the morning prelims as the top qualifier in the women’s 100 meters with a big personal best.
In all, LSU’s athletes turned in five times ranking No. 1 or No. 2 in the early-season NCAA rankings with their performance on Friday while also combining for a total of five all-conditions personal bests on the day.
Wales Never Fails
Wales was the one who grabbed the spotlight with her performance in the women’s University javelin as she saved her best throw for last while raising her personal best by nearly eight feet with a mark of 188-0 in the sixth round. She moved from third place to second place in the final standings and finished as the top collegian in the field with Ariana Ince taking the title with a throw of 193-8 while competing unattached.
Wales improved throughout her series as she followed an opening throw of 169-0 with a mark of 178-6 in the second round to settle into third place in the early going. She improved again to 179-0 in the fourth round in the competition before taking the NCAA lead at 188-0 on her final throw to overtake 2016 NCAA Champion and collegiate-record holder Maggie Malone (180-0) now unattached.
Texas A&M’s Audrey Malone finished well back in fourth place with a series-best throw of 174-3 in the second round, while Aggie teammate Madalaine Stulce threw 170-6 in the first round for fifth place overall.
A two-time All-American, Wales eclipsed her previous PR of 180-7 set in winning the bronze medal at the SEC Championships last spring. She now looks poised to contend for the NCAA title in her final season after also finishing as an All-American in each of the last two years at the NCAA Championships with a fourth-place finish in 2015 and sixth-place finish in 2016.
The senior from West Monroe, Louisiana, also captured her best career finish at the Texas Relays following consecutive third-place finishes in 2015 and 2016 and a sixth-place finish as a freshman in 2014.
Bring The Payne
Payne was impressive in winning her qualifying heat of the women’s 400-meter hurdles on Thursday afternoon when she opened her outdoor season by running 57.77 seconds to win her heat with the third-best time of the round. She emerged from Friday’s final as the NCAA leader in the event with a blistering personal best of 56.12.
Payne began to take control of the race at the seventh hurdle as she and Purdue’s Symone Black separated themselves from the pack down the homestretch. The Lady Tiger junior maintained a three-meter lead over the ninth and 10th hurdles and withstood Black’s late charge with a strong lean at the finish line. Black finished runner-up with the NCAA’s second-fastest time this season at 56.18.
The Compton, California, native and Long Beach Poly High School product took down her previous PR of 56.38 set last season and moved up a spot to No. 7 on LSU’s all-time outdoor performance list.
Payne snapped a 10-year drought as four Lady Tigers have now been crowned Texas Relays champions in the women’s 400-meter hurdles all-time as she joined the likes of Schowonda Williams (1985, 1986, 1987), now assistant coach Debbie Parris-Thymes (1993) and Nickiesha Wilson (2007).
Two other Lady Tigers lined up alongside Payne in Friday’s final as senior Ka’Lynn Jupiter was fourth with the No. 7-ranked time in the NCAA this season at 57.38 and senior Bryiana Richardson took sixth in 58.63.
The men’s DMR quickly turned into a two-team race to the finish between LSU and Texas A&M as the Tigers beat their SEC rivals to the line for their first Texas Relays win in the event since the 2008 season. It also gave the LSU Track & Field program its 78th relay championship all-time at the Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays.
Sophomore Dajour Braxton (1,200 meters), senior LaMar Bruton (400 meters), junior Jack Wilkes (800 meters) and senior Blair Henderson (1,600 meters) combined for the 10th-fastest outdoor DMR in school history for a winning time of 9 minutes, 46.61 seconds. Henderson closed strong as he held off Aggie anchor Alex Riba through the finish line with a strong kick at the end.
They were nearly 11 seconds faster than the third-place team as Baylor was next across the line in 9:57.22, while Incarnate Word also broke 10 minutes in the race with a time of 9:59.28 for fourth place.
The Lady Tigers ran away with the Texas Relays title in the women’s 4x100-meter relay a year ago with a time of 43.25 in the final, and they opened up their title defense early Friday morning in the first heat of the first qualifying race on the track with an identical 43.25 for the top time of the day.
Junior Mikiah Brisco, Johnson, senior Jada Martin and junior Aleia Hobbs followed their season-opening NCAA leader of 43.12 at the Louisiana Classics two weeks ago with a time nearly a full half-second faster than any other team in the field on Friday. They were more than two seconds faster than UTEP (45.40) in their heat and well in front of Texas A&M (43.70) in second overall in qualifying.
The Lady Tigers are favorites to defend their Texas Relays title as USC (44.21), Texas (44.45), Clemson (44.51), Houston (44.91), Baylor (45.11), Texas Tech (45.18) and Virginia Tech (45.37) round out the finalists.
The Tigers came away as favorites themselves in the men’s 4x100-meter relay as sophomore Donte Jackson, senior Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, senior Tremayne Acy and sophomore Jaron Flournoy teamed for a time of 39.23 in the first heat that topped the prelim standings by more than three tenths with the NCAA’s No. 2-ranked time this season.
Texas A&M qualified at 39.57 as winners of the second heat, while Texas (39.73), Houston (39.77), Texas Tech (39.88), Illinois (39.91), Baylor (40.06), Georgia (40.26) and BYU (40.29) also advanced on the men’s side.
“I was very pleased with how we performed in this morning’s qualifying,” said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “The (4x100) relays kind of set the tone for our team for the rest of the day. They did what they needed to do to get to the final and give us the best opportunity with the lane we wanted. I thought we showed that kind of competitiveness throughout the day.”
After running the second leg in 4x100-meter relay qualifying in the first event of the day, Johnson led a trio of Lady Tigers advancing to the women’s 100-meter final as heat winners as she rolled to a new wind-legal PR of 11.13 (+1.9) in the first heat that was again the fastest time of the day.
A native of Italy, Texas, Johnson’s homecoming was just as she imagined as she shattered her previous personal best of 11.27 from her freshman season with the No. 2-ranked time in the NCAA in 2017.
“Coming here from Baton Rouge, it feels like I’m running at home,” said Johnson, who won seven state titles at Mike A. Myers Stadium during her prep career at Italy High School. “When I come here, I just think about how I ran the Texas Relays when I was in high school, how I won state seven times and now I’m at LSU doing the same thing. It feels great.”
Hobbs followed her teammate as the winner of the second heat as she edged Texas A&M’s Aaliyah Brown (11.21w) with a season-opening wind-aided time of 11.20 (+2.7) for the second-fastest time of the round and No. 4-ranked time in the NCAA this season under all conditions. Senior Rushell Harvey qualified fifth overall as the winner of the third heat with a wind-aided time of 11.41 (+2.8).
Also emerging from Friday’s prelim events with a No. 2 national ranking was Brisco, who ran her fastest career 100-meter hurdles under all conditions with a wind-aided 12.93 (+3.6) to qualify second overall for the final behind UTEP’s NCAA leader Tobi Amusan (12.75w) in the second heat. Brisco’s lined up with a previous wind-aided best of 13.02 from her sophomore season last spring.
Freshman Brittley Humphrey narrowly missed advancing to the final by one place as she finished 10th overall with a wind-aided time of 13.50 (+2.9), while junior Danielle Phillips placed 26th with a time of 13.98 (+2.3).
Junior Tinashe Mutanga was the Tigers’ lone individual qualifier on Friday as he opened his outdoor season by clocking a wind-legal 10.38 (+1.4) for third place in the second heat and eighth place in the field to move on to the final of the men’s 100-meter dash on Saturday afternoon. It was a solid opener for Mutanga, who was limited by injury throughout the indoor season.
Sprint Medley Relay
Johnson’s work wasn’t done as she later returned to the track for a third time to lead off LSU’s sprint medley relay on the opening 200 meters as she teamed with sophomore Rachel Misher (200 meters), senior Travia Jones (400 meters) and freshman Ruby Stauber (800 meters) to run the eighth-fastest time in school history at 3 minutes, 44.65 seconds.
After Baylor set the time to beat at 3:59.12 in the first heat, the Lady Tigers battled Texas A&M for the title in the second as the Aggies took home the crown in 3:42.10 with LSU settling for second at 3:44.65. Finishing in third was USC with a time of 3:47.31 followed by Kansas (3:56.40) and Northern Illinois (3:45.11) in the Top 5.
Friar Finding Form
Friday’s field events were also highlighted by the performance of senior Nataliyah Friar in the women’s University triple jump as she turned in her best performance in the event since her sophomore season.
After fouling her first jump, Friar posted a wind-legal seasonal best of 42-9 ¾ (+1.8) on her second attempt to lock up a sixth-place finish in the final standings. Friar, whose series also included a wind-legal effort of 42-2 in the fourth round, finished with her best mark in the triple jump since the 2015 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships where she jumped a wind-aided 43-8 ½ in the national final.
In addition, Tiger sophomore Da’Quan Bellard jumped a wind-legal personal best of 50-7 ¼ (+0.8) on his final attempt in the B section of the men’s triple jump as he secured fifth place in the event with his efforts.