COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- LSU’s Walter Henning and Trindon Holliday showed just why they are considered national championship favorites in their respective events this season with a pair of NCAA-leading performances during Saturday’s competition at the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
Texas A&M played host to the event at the newly built Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium, which will also play host to the 2009 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships beginning March 13.
Henning opened the meet with a bang as he blew away the competition in the men’s weight throw while breaking his own school record with a throw of 73 feet, 4 ¾ inches on his third attempt. He kicked off the 2009 season at the Purple Tiger Classic last weekend with a then school-record toss and NCAA automatic qualifying mark of 72-3 ¾.
But the reigning SEC Male Field Athlete of the Week improved upon his seasonal-best mark with the No. 1 throw in the NCAA this season to defeat Missouri’s senior All-American Chris Rohr by nearly four feet. Rohr took runner-up honors with a top mark of 69-7 ½ on the afternoon.
What is even more impressive is that Henning recorded five-straight throws of more than 72 feet in his series, including the fifth-best throw in the world this year to win the event title.
“This is definitely a step in the right direction,” Henning said. “Last week, I was just trying to get a throw to qualify for the NCAA meet. I came into this meet wanting to build on that. I think that the consistency in my throws today shows that we’re ready for a breakthrough. I now have a great deal of confidence in knowing that I can throw in the same circle I’ll see at the NCAA meet.”
Holliday followed Henning minutes later with an eye-popping performance of his own, winning the 60-meter title with an NCAA best and near personal-best time of 6.56 seconds in the final. He lined up in Saturday’s preliminary round with a top time of 6.66 to rank fourth nationally, but the Zachary native walked away from the Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium ranked No. 3 in the world.
After running an easy 6.67 in the prelims, Holliday won the event title over Texas A&M’s Gerald Phiri (6.59) with his first NCAA automatic qualifying time of the season.
Holliday is already well ahead of the pace he set a year ago as he never broke 6.60 before setting his personal best of 6.54 in a runner-up finish to teammate Richard Thompson at the NCAA meet. Thompson set the current school record of 6.51 in the national final in 2008.
“I was pretty happy with how I ran tonight. I never really expected to run that fast this early in the season,” Holliday said. “All I really wanted to do at this meet was to get an automatic time for the NCAAs. It gave me a good confidence boost because this is the same track that I’ll be running on when we come back for the NCAA meet. I think I left a good impression on that track.”
While Holliday added his name to LSU’s list of NCAA automatic qualifiers Saturday, four Lady Tigers posted their first NCAA qualifying performance of the 2009 season.
On the track, sophomore Kenyanna Wilson clocked a provisional qualifying time of 7.42 in the 60-meter dash, while senior Kayann Thompson recorded a provisional time of 2 minutes, 8.73 seconds in the 800-meter run. Sophomore Brittani Carter led the way in the field events with her first career provisional qualifying mark in the high jump at 5-10, while freshman Rachel Laurent cleared a provisional qualifying height of 12-11 ¾ to win the women’s pole vault title
Other LSU athletes who captured event titles during Saturday’s action include LaTavia Thomas in the women’s 400 meters (54.55), Robert Simmons in the men’s 400 meters (47.79) and Tenaya Jones in the women’s 60-meter hurdles (8.46).
“We have a few people on our team who really love to get out there and compete,” said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “Walter Henning continues to show the kind of consistency and competitive fire needed to win an NCAA championship. Trindon Holliday is a guy who fights for everything he gets. He’s proven what kind of competitor he is to me throughout his career.
“We’re going to need that kind of competitiveness from both our teams if we want to compete on a national level this season. We have another great opportunity to show that next weekend.”
Saturday’s SEC/Big 12 Challenge featured three teams from each conference battling one another for league bragging rights. The Tigers and Lady Tigers joined Florida and Ole Miss of the SEC against host Texas A&M, Texas and Missouri of the Big 12 Conference. The Big 12 swept men’s and women’s titles, winning the men’s title, 332-279, and the women’s title, 359-226.
The top eight finishers in each event on both the men’s and women’s sides earned points for their conference in a 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 format.
The Tigers and Lady Tigers will head back on the road next weekend as they make their annual trip to New York to compete in the New Balance Collegiate Invitational to be held at the historic Armory Track and Field Center beginning Feb. 6. LSU will be one of more than 100 universities represented as it is arguably the strongest field it will face during the regular season.