Cherry, Mitchell-Blake Headline Alumni Gold
BATON ROUGE – Michael Cherry won the men’s 400-meter dash with a personal best of 44.77 seconds in his season-opening race before Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake claimed the men’s 200 meters with a time of 20.15 in his season opener to highlight Saturday’s LSU Alumni Gold held at the Bernie Moore Track Stadium.
The LSU Track & Field teams positioned themselves well for the championship season with their performance Saturday as they totaled three top-five, six top-10 and 10 top-20 performances in the NCAA rankings in the 2017 season along with seven personal bests and 13 event wins on the day.
Cherry certainly brought the meet to life with a narrow victory over Vernon Norwood in the men’s 400 meters as he held off the 2015 NCAA Champion and two-time World Champion with the second-fastest time in the NCAA this spring.
Running stride-for-stride through the 300-meter mark with Cherry in Lane 5 and Norwood on his outside in Lane 6, it was Cherry holding the advantage coming off the final turn and clinging to a half-meter lead through the finish line for the win. The scoreboard confirmed Cherry as the winner with a personal best of 44.77 and Norwood coming up just short in second place in 44.82 in their season openers.
Tyler Terry of Hinds Community College rounded out the medalists in third place with a time of 45.62, followed by Tulane’s Raymond Kibet in fourth place at 45.78 and LSU’s LaMar Bruton with a season-opening time of his own at 45.93 for fifth place. Bruton’s 45.93 tied him for the No. 14 spot in the NCAA rankings in his first 400-meter race of the spring.
Cherry, the reigning NCAA Outdoor Bronze Medalist in the event from 2016, eclipsed his previous personal best of 44.81 from the U.S. Olympic Trials last June with the third-fastest time in the World in 2017.
“Coming in, I really studied his races and studied my races and made sure I knew what kind of runner he is,” Cherry said of Norwood. “I wanted to save a little bit for the end and see if I could stand up and sprint. I have been working a lot on my sprint mechanics, so it’s starting to come through. Vernon is a great quartermiler, so we’ll be seeing a lot of each other down the line.”
The British Are Coming
Mitchell-Blake’s last 200-meter race outdoors came in Rio de Janeiro last summer where he lined up in the Olympic semifinals for the first time while wearing the Union Jack of Great Britain across his chest.
His appearance at the Rio Olympics capped a 2016 season in which he emerged onto the World stage at the SEC Championships with a personal-best time of 19.95 in the event as part of his treble-winning performance while also claiming conference titles in the 100 meters and 4x100-meter relay. That 19.95 was just one one-hundredth of a second off of John Regis’ British record of 19.94 in the 200 meters.
Mitchell-Blake debuted in style at this season’s LSU Alumni Gold as he controlled his race from the start and crossed the finish line with the fifth-fastest time in the World at 20.15 (+0.1) to rank No. 2 in the NCAA for his efforts. He nearly clipped South Carolina’s Ncincilili Titi for the national lead as the Gamecock standout clocked 20.14 at the Gamecock Invitational a week ago.
Mitchell-Blake led a 1-2-3 sweep for the Tigers in Saturday’s event as senior Tremayne Acy opened his season at 20.49 (+0.8) in the event to win the second heat ahead of sophomore Jaron Flournoy in second place for the heat and third place overall with a wind-legal PR of 20.56. Acy’s 20.49 tied as the 13th-fastest time in the NCAA this season, while Flournoy’s 20.56 tied for the No. 19 spot in the national rankings.
“It’s nice to open up. That’s my favorite event. I came through the race healthy, which is the most important thing,” Mitchell-Blake said of his season-opening 200. “I executed the race OK, there’s still some things I can do better. I’m definitely pleased with the time and happy to come through healthy. It’s coming to crunch time. SECs is coming up in three weeks, so I’m just trying to prepare for that.”
The Lady Tigers fired out of the blocks in the afternoon session as their “B” team of freshman Tonea Marshall, sophomore Kortnei Johnson, freshman Cassondra Hall and senior Rushell Harvey won the women’s 4x100-meter relay with an impressive 43.59 to finish nearly a half second ahead of Clemson (44.03) for the win.
Johnson was the only leg returning from LSU’s school-record relay at the Mt. SAC Relays where she teamed with junior Mikiah Brisco (leadoff leg), senior Jada Martin (third leg) and junior Aleia Hobbs (anchor leg) for a seasonal best and the second-fastest time in collegiate history at 42.14.
Johnson later dropped her seasonal best in the 200 meters at the LSU Alumni Gold with a wind-aided 22.85 (+2.2) for third place in the event behind former Lady Tiger Kimberly Duncan in first at 22.41w and Martin with a seasonal best of her own at 22.76w for second. Martin came away tied for No. 9 in the NCAA this season followed by Johnson in the No. 14 spot nationally in 2017.
Brisco lined up in her first 100-meter dash and 100-meter hurdles double of the 2017 season while scoring a pair of silver medals as one of the top performing Lady Tigers at this year’s LSU Alumni Gold meet.
She finished runner-up to LSU great Jasmin Stowers in the sprint hurdles while clocking a wind-legal 12.99 (+1.9) for her third-fastest time of the season under all conditions. Stowers took the tape with a run of 12.90 in her season-opening race, while Marshall placed third overall with a wind-legal 13.38.
Brisco returned to the track just 30 minutes later for the second heat of the women’s 100-meter dash and took her second silver medal for the afternoon with a seasonal-best wind-aided time of 11.12 (+2.3) to solidify her No. 7 national ranking in the event. Hobbs won the 100-meter title with a seasonal best of 11.06w to climb into a tie for second in the NCAA’s all-conditions rankings for the 2017 season.
Other Lady Tigers turning in impressive sprint times during Saturday’s events were Hall with a wind-legal PR of 11.35 (-1.2) in the 100 meters and career-best wind-aided time of 22.92 (+3.9) in the 200 meters, as well as senior Travia Jones with a new wind-legal personal best of 23.65 (+1.9) in the 200 meters.
While Brisco came up a split-second shy of victory in the 100-meter hurdles, junior Kymber Payne brought home the win in the 400-meter hurdles with a time of 56.50 to beat Texas’ Ariel Jones (57.34) to the line.
The Lady Tigers closed out the meet with one of the NCAA’s leading performances in the 4x400-meter relay as sophomore Rachel Misher, Martin, Payne and Jones had a seasonal-best time of 3 minutes, 29.10 seconds virtually by themselves for the win. They posted the sixth-fastest time by a collegiate team in 2017 while finishing more than six seconds ahead of Clemson’s 3:35.17 in second place.
LSU senior Rebekah Wales has firmly established herself as an NCAA-title favorite in the women’s javelin this season as she owns the three best throws in the NCAA following her performance Saturday.
Already the NCAA’s leading performer with a personal best of 188 feet, 0 inches from the Texas Relays, Wales posted her second-longest throw of the season on her fourth attempt at the LSU Alumni Gold as she took home the title with a mark of 185-7 to finish more than 13 feet clear of the field. She also owns the third-best throw in the country at 183-2 from the Beach Invitational last weekend.
The Lady Tigers picked up two wins in the field events as freshman Nickolette Dunbar threw a series-best of 51-1 ¾ for victory in the women’s shot put. Senior Nataliyah Friar later raised her seasonal best to 43-0 ½ in a runner-up finish in the triple jump to move to No. 12 in the NCAA, while junior Danielle Phillips added a second place in the long jump with a wind-legal 20-3 ½ after hurdling a wind-aided 13.46 earlier in the day.
Event Winners & Personal Bests
Senior Blair Henderson led LSU’s other event winners on the afternoon as he ran his second-fastest 800 meters of the 2017 outdoor season at 1:47.39 to take the title in the men’s invitational event.
LSU’s athletes swept 5,000-meter titles late in the meet as redshirt freshman Hannah Bourque won the women’s race in 18:33.06 and sophomore Dajour Braxton followed with victory in the men’s event with a time of 14:52.80. The Lady Tigers also won both 1,500-meter titles on the day as sophomore Hollie Parker won the “A” section in 4:27.09 and sophomore Erika Lewis clocked a personal best of 4:28.84 to win the “B” section.
Also setting personal bests with their efforts on Saturday afternoon were junior Kaitlyn Walker with a clearance of 5-7 ¾ in the high jump and freshman Savannah Sledd with a mark of 143-10 in the hammer throw.
The LSU Track & Field teams are set to close out the regular season next weekend as they play host to their third home meet in four weeks with the inaugural SEC Relays running April 28-29 at Bernie Moore Stadium. In three weeks, they kick off their championship season at the 2017 SEC Outdoor Track & Field Championships being held May 11-13 at South Carolina’s Weems Baskin Track in Columbia.