FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- The Lady Tigers wrapped up the 2009 edition of the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships exactly the way they ended last year’s championship by setting a seasonal best to finish as the NCAA runner-up in the 4x400-meter relay in the last event of the meet Saturday afternoon at John McDonnell Field.
Head coach Dennis Shaver elected to run with a team of sophomore Brittany Hall, junior Kayann Thompson, junior Samantha Henry and junior LaTavia Thomas after the foursome set a seasonal best and NCAA-leading time of 3 minutes, 31.09 seconds in the qualifying round on Thursday.
And they responded with a nearly three-second seasonal best of 3:28.82 to finish runner-up to the foursome from Texas (3:28.51) in the final race of the 2009 season.
Their eight points helped the Lady Tigers earn a sixth-place finish in the final team standings with a total of 29.5 points for the meet. The Texas A&M Aggies took the team title with 50 points.
Each of LSU’s runners in the 4x400 relay recorded seasonal best splits en route to their runner-up finish. Hall led off with a split of 53.40 seconds before handing off to Thompson on the second leg as she carried the stick around the 400-meter oval in 52.32. Henry then ripped off a 51.86 split before Thomas anchored with a lightning-quick split of her own at 51.22.
This comes on the heels of an indoor season in which the Lady Tigers failed to qualify for the 13-team field in the 4x400-meter relay at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
What might be even more impressive is that both Thomas and Hall ran as part of the relay team in the wake of a pair of All-America performances in the 800-meter final earlier in the day, while it was Henry’s 10th race of these championships after also running in Saturday’s 200-meter final.
The final of the 800 meters was the first event of the day for the Lady Tigers as they added a total of nine points to their team score in the race. Thomas crossed the finish line in third place with an eye-popping personal best and the second-fastest time in school history at 2:01.56, while Hall followed in sixth place with a time of 2:04.06 for her first career individual All-America honor.
For Thomas, it marked the fourth time over the past two seasons that she has won an All-America honor in the event, including an NCAA Indoor title and NCAA Outdoor runner-up finish in 2008.
“I was happy to see that 2:01 finally pop up on that board,” Thomas said following the race. “You know I definitely wanted to win and score 10 points for my team, but third place and a PR is good in a meet like this with so many good 800-meter runners. That might be the best event in the meet because there are so many runners with the ability to win the race. I’m proud of both races.
“We just wanted to run our best on the relay. I don’t think many people thought we could run that fast with so many things going against us, but we just fought hard all the way to the end.”
Henry also enjoyed an outstanding four days of competition at the NCAA Championships with an impressive three All-America honors while running a total of 10 races for the week. After placing eighth in the 100-meter final on Friday night, Henry returned to the track on Saturday for the final of the 200-meter dash and posted a sixth-place finish while running 23.07 into a strong headwind.
In fact, Henry is now a nine-time All-American during her collegiate career as she also received a pair of honors in the 60 meters and 200 meters at the NCAA Indoor Championships in March.
“The tremendous growth that our women’s team has shown from the indoor season is remarkable, and I’m proud of every single one of our ladies for the way they competed this week,” Shaver said. “We lost nine seniors from the team that won a national championship at Drake last season, and we really weren’t that far out of it this year. I’m proud of them for that.
“That speaks volumes of the character of this team and the women we have who came to the meet to get something done. That is very satisfying to me as a coach to see that kind of effort.”
While the Lady Tigers earned a sixth-place finish in the final women’s standings, the Tigers had a great meet of their own with 37 points to finish fifth in the final men’s team standings. Texas A&M pulled off the sweep as the Aggies also took the men’s team championship with 48 points.
Junior Richard Jones led the charge in the final day as he followed his All-American performance in the 800 meters by running a leg on the Tigers’ 4x400 relay that also reach All-America status.
For the third day in a row, Jones recorded a new personal best in the 800-meter run as he earned a fifth-place finish in Saturday’s final by running a time of 1:47.10 in his debut at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. Jones is now the sixth-fastest 800-meter runner in program history as he also set personal bests of 1:47.62 in the first round and 1:47.27 in the second round of qualifying.
Like Thomas and Hall before him, Jones returned to the track just an hour after running the 800-meter final to run a leg on LSU’s 4x400 relay in place of the injured Robert Simmons, who pulled up on the backstretch with a leg injury while running in Saturday’s final of the 400-meter dash.
The foursome earned All-America honors for the second time this season with a sixth-place finish on Saturday after also finishing in sixth place at the NCAA Indoor Championships in March.
Freshman Barrett Nugent also ran in his first career NCAA final in his first ever appearance at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships during Saturday’s action, earning a ninth-place finish in the final of the 110-meter hurdles with a time of 14.01 into a strong headwind.
“We would have liked to finish a little bit better on the men’s side today, but you hate to see what happened to Robert in a race like that,” Shaver said. “I really thought he was going to get in there and score us a couple of points based on the way he’s been running and progressing all during the outdoor season. And he still had a great outdoor season for us in his first college season.
“I also think Barrett had a great outdoor season and a great NCAA Championship in his first ever time competing at this level. To make the final in his first NCAA experience says a lot about how far he has come his first season in our program. He has a bright future here at LSU.”
LSU wrapped up the 2009 season with an outstanding weekend at the NCAA Championships as a total of 15 Tigers and Lady Tigers earned All-America honors in four days of competition.
Senior Trindon Holliday led the way by winning his first career NCAA title in the 100-meter dash on Friday night, while also anchored the Tigers to an NCAA runner-up finish in the 4x100-meter relay. Sophomore Walter Henning just missed winning a title of his own by finishing runner-up in the men’s hammer throw, while the Lady Tigers were the NCAA runner-up in the 4x400 relay.
The Tigers and Lady Tigers will return to Baton Rouge on Sunday as many athletes will now turn their attention to making their respective national teams as the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Athletics is scheduled to run in Berlin, Germany, from Aug. 15-23.