LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The LSU track and field teams knew that in order to put themselves in a position to compete for national championships at the NCAA Outdoor Championships two weeks from now, they needed a successful weekend of qualifying at the 2009 NCAA Mideast Regional Championships held Friday and Saturday at Cardinal Park Stadium.
The Tigers and Lady Tigers certainly accomplished their goal by combining for an impressive 23 automatic qualifiers into the NCAA Championships during Saturday’s final-round action.
Not only that, but the LSU women captured the team title at the NCAA Mideast Regional for the fourth-straight season, while the men finished runner-up in the team standings.
The Lady Tigers ran away with the team championship by racking up 85.5 points over the course of two days of competition with the Tennessee Lady Volunteers finishing in a distant second with 69 points. The Tigers scored 83 points to finish runner-up to the 90 points scored by Arkansas.
“I thought that both of our teams competed about as well as they could today and all week long,” said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “We had quite a few athletes who knew that if they did not finish in the top five of their event today that they would not be going to the NCAA meet. They knew what they had to do and got it done when they needed to the most.
“The bottom line is that if you’re not at the meet, then you’re not going to be able to score for us. Our athletes did a great job today to make sure that they are assured a spot in the NCAA meet.”
Among LSU’s 23 NCAA Championships qualifiers on the meet’s final day were eight regional champions as the Tigers and Lady Tigers combined to win five individual events and three relays en route to their final placement in the team standings.
Freshman Barrett Nugent captured LSU’s first individual title of the day in impressive fashion by cruising to victory in the final of the men’s 110-meter hurdles with a new personal best time.
Nugent, who qualified for the final with personal record and top preliminary time of 13.81 seconds on Friday afternoon, crushed the field with another wind-legal PR of 13.66 to capture the regional crown in the event in his meet debut. His time is the sixth-fastest in the history of LSU’s track and field program and ranks him as the No. 12 performer in the NCAA this season.
“My heart,” Nugent said when asked what helped him find the strength to set a new personal best and qualify for the NCAA Championships in his first regional appearance. “I didn’t want to come in just to place. I wanted to come in strong to nationals. I really started to feel myself pull away in the middle of the race. I thought I got out pretty slow, but I recovered pretty quickly.”
Shaver said that Nugent’s work ethic in practice in recent weeks is the reason for his performance at the NCAA Mideast Regional Championships this weekend.
“Barrett has been very consistent in his training over the last few weeks, and what he has done for these last two days is certainly a result of that,” Shaver said. “If he has three rounds at the NCAA Championships like he had two this weekend, then he very well might score for us. I am so proud of the way that Barrett has prepared himself for the postseason, and he is being rewarded for it.”
Two other Tigers won regional titles on the afternoon as senior Trindon Holliday won his second-career NCAA Mideast Regional title in the 100-meter dash with a wind-aided time of 10.03 while sophomore Walter Henning won the hammer throw crown with a throw of 231 feet, 6 inches.
What made Henning’s victory so impressive is that he beat the NCAA leader to do so as Missouri All-American Chris Rohr was more than seven feet behind Henning with a mark of 224-2.
In addition to his win in the 100-meter dash, Holliday anchored the Tigers to the NCAA Regional crown in the 4x100-meter relay with a winning time of 39.13. He combined with Armanti Hayes, Will Coppage and Gabriel Mvumvure to beat the foursome from Kentucky (39.29) to the tape. In seven appearances at the NCAA Mideast Regional, LSU has won the 4x100 relay four times.
Junior All-American Samantha Henry led the Lady Tigers’ effort during Saturday’s action with a pair of regional titles on the afternoon. Henry’s performance was highlighted by a new wind-legal PR of 22.80 to win the 200-meter dash, which ranks No. 2 among all performances in the NCAA.
Not only that, but Henry ran the third leg on the Lady Tigers’ winning 4x100-meter relay team as she teamed with Monique Cabral, Cassandra Tate and Kenyanna Wilson for a time of 43.72. She also punched her ticket to the NCAA meet with a second-place finish in the 100-meter dash.
In fact, Henry finished runner-up to Wilson in the 100-meter final as Wilson won the race with an impressive time of 11.39. Henry took second place with a time of 11.43.
The Lady Tigers also lowered their NCAA-leading time in the 4x400-meter relay, winning with a blistering 3 minutes, 31.53 seconds to finish just ahead of the foursome from Auburn (3:31.79). It improves upon their previous seasonal-best time of 3:31.81 set at the Texas Relays back on April 4 as Tate, Brittany Hall, Kayann Thompson and LaTavia Thomas are this year’s regional champs.
“Those are just a few of many outstanding performances we saw today from our athletes,” Shaver said. “Obviously, the goal for each one of our athletes coming into this meet is to finish in the top five of an event to qualify automatically for the NCAA Championships. But it’s great to see them raise their level of performance and go out and win an event. I’m proud of them for that.”
All athletes earning a top-five finish in an individual event and all relays finishing in the top three in regional competition qualified automatically for the NCAA Championships.
The Tigers featured a total of 11 NCAA automatic qualifiers on Saturday afternoon as Mvumvure (200 meters), Hayes (400 meters), Robert Simmons (400 meters), Jamaal James (800 meters), Richard Jones (800 meters), Patrick Lee (400 hurdles) and Rabun Fox (hammer throw) join those athletes winning NCAA Mideast Regional titles.
Not to be outdone, the Lady Tigers had 12 entries qualify for the NCAA Championship as Cabral (100 meters), Hall (800 meters), Thomas (800 meters), Kristina Davis (100 meters), Brittani Carter (high jump), Melissa Ogbourne (triple jump) and Anna Lyons (javelin) joined those taking home regional championships in punching their ticket to the national meet.
LSU athletes are also in position to receive a number of at-large bids into the NCAA meet with an announcement of all entries accepted into the meet scheduled to be released by Tuesday.
The race to be crowned this year’s national champion will begin June 10 as the nation’s best track and field athletes will come together in Fayetteville, Ark., for the 2009 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships at John McDonnell Field. The meet is scheduled to last four days at the University of Arkansas and will come to an end June 13.