DES MOINES, Iowa - The LSU Track & Field teams raced out to a fast start at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships as the Tigers scored their first 11 points of the meet in the men's long jump and the squads combined for eight finalists during Wednesday's semifinal action held at Drake Stadium on the campus of Drake University in Des Moines.
Junior Damar Forbes took home his third-straight NCAA silver medal in the long jump after posting a top mark of 26 feet, 6 ½ inches on Wednesday evening, while senior Kyron Blaise captured his second career All-America honor in the event in 2012 with his best mark of 25-6 ¾ en route to sixth place.
Forbes, who finished as the NCAA long jump silver medalist outdoors in 2011 and indoors in 2012, had a series-best wind-aided jump of 26-6 ½ on his second attempt to move himself into second place behind an impressive opening jump of 26-10 ½ by Marquise Goodwin of Texas. Goodwin improved with his best of 27-0 in the sixth and final round of jumps, while Forbes' best of 26-6 ½ held up for second place.
Blaise was actually in danger of missing the final after posting a top mark of 24-7 ¾ through two jumps in the semifinal round, but he soared into sixth place with a series-best of 25-6 ¾ on his third attempt to hold on through the final and add three more points to LSU's total in the event.
The Tigers wrapped up the first of four days of competition at Drake Stadium in third place for the overall men's team standings with 11 points, trailing only Texas (17) and Nebraska (13).
In addition, the Tigers advanced two qualifiers into national finals with their performance Wednesday and the Lady Tigers converted on six of their seven opportunities on the first day of semifinal action.
"We could not have asked for much more from our teams on our first day at Drake," said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. "Our athletes showed that they are here with one focus, and that is to compete for national championships. They have certainly put themselves in a position to do that with their performance here on the fourth day of this year's championship. We expect that same effort again tomorrow."
Wednesday also proved to be a tremendous day of qualifying for the Tigers and Lady Tigers as the squads combined for eight finalists during the opening day of competition in Des Moines.
Each team set new 2012 seasonal bests in the 4x100-meter relay while kicking off Wednesday's semifinal action on the track at Drake Stadium as the Tigers won the second men's semifinal with the time of 38.77 seconds and the Lady Tigers won the first women's semifinal with at time of 42.68.
The Tigers were the first club to step on the track as senior Barrett Nugent, freshman Aaron Ernest, senior Keyth Talley and sophomore Shermund Allsop slashed .72 seconds off of their previous seasonal best in a 38.77 clocking to cruise to the finish line ahead of the 39.08 by Texas A&M in the second heat. Auburn is the top qualifier into the national final after winning the third heat with its semifinal time of 38.53.
Ernest later returned to the track for the semifinal round of the men's 100-meter dash, and advanced to the final as an automatic qualifier in his debut at the NCAA Championships by running a wind-legal personal record of 10.17 for second place in the first of three semifinal heats.
Ernest has dropped his PR four times during the 2012 outdoor season while cracking the Top 10 of LSU's all-time performance list as his 10.17 on Wednesday ties him for the No. 8 position in school history.
"It was a good day," Ernest said. "I knew we were going to run fast in the relay. We just had to clean it up on the exchanges. We've been ready to run 38 (seconds) all year with some good exchanges. In the 100, I was probably running fourth or fifth after 30 meters. I just came up and used my top-end speed to close in at the end. Luckily, I got second (in his heat) to get in the final."
After the men advanced to the final of the men's 4x100-meter relay, the women stepped onto the track for the first of three women's semifinal heats with the nation's fastest time already under their belt at 42.99 at the Texas Relays and an eye on defending their NCAA crown from the 2011 campaign.
That is when their team of sophomore Takeia Pinckney, senior Semoy Hackett, senior Rebecca Alexander and junior Kimberlyn Duncan blistered the Drake Stadium track in 42.68 to finish well ahead of the 43.43 by Clemson in the first heat. The Texas A&M Aggies won the second heat with the second-fastest time of the day at 42.90, while Oregon clocked 43.32 for the third-fastest time of the semifinal round.
With their performance, the Lady Tigers moved into the No. 6 spot on LSU's all-time list and into the No. 9 spot in collegiate history in the 4x100-meter relay with their time of 42.68.
Three Lady Tigers running on the sprint relay team then advanced to the national finals of their individual events as they have an opportunity to score big points for their team on Friday.
Alexander emerged as an NCAA title contender in the women's 400-meter dash after shattering her PR in the event by nearly a half second with a time of 51.39 to finish in second place behind Illinois freshman Ashley Spencer (51.33) in the third semifinal heat. Alexander's time ranked third overall on the day while moving her into the No. 4 spot on LSU's all-time outdoor performance list in the event.
"I positioned myself really well on the backstretch, and didn't let her (Spencer) get too far away from me. When it was time for to go, I did," Alexander said following her 400-meter race. "The goal today was just to get to the final. We did a good job of that. We got the stick around (in the relay) like we needed to, and we all came back and made it through in our events. That was our goal today."
Both Duncan and Hackett then earned their spot in Friday's national final of the women's 100-meter dash as Duncan won the first heat with the second-fastest time of the day at 11.11 (-1.2) and Hackett finished in second place in the second heat with the fifth-fastest time of the semifinal round at 11.16 (+1.7).
Tate eclipsed her previous personal best of 55.99 set in the national semifinal a year ago with a strong run of 55.97 to win the third heat of the women's 400-meter hurdles. Lipsey opened the 800-meter semifinals by winning the first of three heats with a time of 2 minutes, 3.76 seconds.
"Day four of this year's NCAA Championship is now behind us. Our focus now turns to what it is we will have to do to continue our momentum into the weekend," Shaver said. "We'll have a few more chances to add to our numbers in the finals tomorrow, as well as some great opportunities in the field events."
Three other Lady Tigers competed in Wednesday's semifinals as senior Jonique Day ran 52.97 to secure a 16th place in the 400 meters, senior Rachel Laurent cleared 13-3 ½ to finish in 18th place for the pole vault and senior Samia Stokes threw 162-3 to claim 18th place in the women's discus throw.
Senior Ade Alleyne-Forte led a quartet of Tigers competing in the men's 400-meter semifinals as he raced to a time of 46.34 for 16th place during Wednesday's qualifying action. Senior Riker Hylton was one back in 17th place with his time of 46.35, while senior Robert Simmons took 19th place overall after running his time of 46.41 and freshman Quincy Downing followed in 21st place with a time of 46.80.
In addition, junior Howard Shepard finished in 23rd place overall in the semifinal round of the men's 800-meter run with a time of 1:51.49 for seventh place in the second semifinal heat.
Semifinal action continues Thursday at the 2012 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championship at 2:30 p.m. CT as the Tigers kick off the action in the men's javelin competition. The Lady Tigers are set to compete for the first time at 3 p.m. with the women's hammer throw. LSU's semifinals on the track are set for a 5:30 p.m. start and include the 200 meters, 100 hurdles, 110 hurdles and 4x400 relays.
ESPN3.com will feature a live video stream of Thursday's NCAA Championship action at Drake Stadium beginning at 5:15 p.m. before the start of the semifinal races on the track.