FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Senior Damar Forbes earned All-SEC honors with a silver-medal-winning performance in the long jump and senior Kimberlyn Duncan and sophomore Aaron Ernest emerged as title favorites in the 200-meter dash as the top qualifiers during Saturday's preliminary action at the 2013 SEC Indoor Track & Field Championships.
Forbes soared to a new seasonal best with a mark of 26 feet, 5 ¾ inches on his second jump of the competition to claim his fourth career SEC long jump silver medal with a runner-up finish.
Ernest sprinted to a new indoor personal record and world-leading time of 20.59 seconds for 2013, while Duncan followed with an indoor PR of her own at 22.71 as the fastest qualifiers of the day during the 200-meter heats to lead a host of 10 finals qualifiers for the Tigers and Lady Tigers in Saturday's preliminary races.
The Lady Tigers will have 16 opportunities to score points in Sunday's championship finale as they wrapped up Saturday's action in fifth place with 13.5 points in the women's team standings. Holding onto the top spot in the women's team race with 37 points is homestanding Arkansas. The Lady Tigers also follow Georgia in second place with 28 points, Florida in third place with 27.5 points and Kentucky in fourth place with 15 points through two days of action at the Randal Tyson Track Center.
The Tigers will compete with 11 chances to score on Sunday afternoon as wrapped up Saturday's action in eighth place with 10 points in the men's team standings.
Arkansas also holds the top spot in the men's team race with 52 points. Trailing the Razorbacks is Florida in second place with 34 points, Georgia in third place with 27 points and Alabama in fourth place on 17 points. The Tigers also trail Missouri, Ole Miss and Texas A&M in a tie for fifth place overall with 13 points apiece.
Forbes stepped onto the long jump runway on Saturday afternoon for perhaps the most competitive event of the day as he battled Florida sophomore Marquis Dendy for the title in an NCAA preview as they are sure to go head-to-head again in two weeks in the long jump final at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
Forbes jumped out to an early lead as he posted a seasonal-best mark of 26-5 ¾ on just his second jump of the competition. But his title as the NCAA leader was short-lived as Dendy followed with a best of his own at 27-1 on his second jump to leap past Forbes with the top mark of the preliminary round. Dendy also eclipsed the 27-foot mark with a leap of 27-0 ½ in the fifth round of jumps.
While Forbes featured a strong series with back-to-back jumps of 26-2 ¼ in the third and fourth rounds, he was unable to reclaim the lead as Dendy defended his SEC Indoor crown.
Forbes is now a four-time All-SEC performer in the long jump as he has captured three-straight SEC Indoor silver medals along with his SEC Outdoor silver medal in the event from a season ago.
"I knew there was a lot more jumping to go, so I tried not to get too excited," Forbes said of his second-round jump. "The SEC has the best jumpers in the country, so you can't really celebrate too much. I knew these guys were going to be jumping far today. (Marquis Dendy) was the better jumper today. I'm looking forward to another great competition at nationals."
While making his SEC Championships debut, Tiger freshman Fitzroy Dunkley added two points to his team's total with a seventh-place finish in the men's high jump final after clearing heights of 6-6 and 6-7 ¾ on his first attempt at each bar. Dunkley fouled out of the competition after the bar was raised to 6-11 ¾.
Duncan spearheaded a strong qualifying performance by the Lady Tigers on Saturday afternoon as a finalist in both the 60 meters and 200 meters.
After winning the second qualifying heat of the 60-meter dash with an opening time of 7.34, Duncan sprinted to her second-straight indoor PR in the 200-meter dash as she cruised to the top time for the day at 22.71 as she seeks her third-straight SEC Indoor title in the event. Texas A&M's Ashton Purvis followed as the second-fastest 200-meter qualifier with a time of 22.99.
"I'll take it," Duncan quipped about her performance on Saturday. "My start is always a key for me. If I can just keep improving that, I think everything else will fall into place. I'm pretty happy with my 200 today, but I still feel like I need to do better of executing my race. It felt like I almost tripped out of the blocks in the 60, but I made it through and that's all that matters."
The Lady Tigers also featured a pair of qualifiers in both the 60-meter hurdles and 800-meter run as they look to pile up the points in both events in Sunday's finale.
Like Duncan, junior Jasmin Stowers looks to win her third-straight SEC Indoor championship as the top qualifier of the day in the 60 hurdles with a time of 8.21 to win her heat. Senior Shanekia Hall also ran a heat-winning time of 8.30 to advance as the third-fastest qualifier in the hurdles. Senior Charlene Lipsey and junior Natoya Goule also won their qualifying heats in the 800 meters as Lipsey ran the second-fastest time at 2 minutes, 7.41 seconds and Goule posted the third-fastest time at 2:07.83 on Saturday afternoon.
Emanuel added four points in a competitive women's long jump as she jumped a series-best of 20-1 ¾ on her second attempt to grab the fourth-place position heading into the final. She wrapped up the competition in fifth place behind Georgia's champion Chanice Porter (21-0 ½), Mississippi State's Erica Bougard (20-5 ¼), Florida's Lorraine Graham (20-3 ½) and Arkansas' Tamara Myers (20-2 ½).
Fellow junior Lynnika Pitts enjoyed a personal-best performance in a ninth-place finish in the women's long jump as she set a lifetime PR of 19-8 on her second attempt.
While Emanuel was wrapping up a fifth-place finish in the long jump, Bliss was scoring four points of her own with a fifth-place finish in the women's shot put after unleashing a lifetime personal record of 52-11 on her final throw of the preliminary round. Bliss earned her spot in the final with a series-best of 52-11 in the third round of throws to take fourth place into the finals. And despite also eclipsing the 52-foot mark with a toss of 52-0 on her fifth attempt, Bliss settled for fifth place with the No. 3-ranked performance in school history.
Georgia's Hilenn James captured the SEC Indoor crown in the women's shot put final with a best of 55-0 ¾ for the day, followed by Missouri's Jill Rushin (54-8 ¼) in second place, South Carolina's Breanna Radford (54-0 ½) in third place and Auburn's Valentina Muzaric (53-5 ½) in fourth place.
Senior Laura Carleton then wrapped up the day with a seventh-place finish and two points in the 3,000-meter final after running 9:22.04 for her best career SEC Indoor finish.
Senior pole vaulter Lacey Sanchez was the first to add to the Lady Tigers' point total as she tied for eighth place in the women's pole vault in the first women's final of the day. After vaulting heights of 12-1 ½ and her seasonal-best of 12-7 ½ on her first attempt, Sanchez fouled out of the competition with the bar resting at 13-1 ½ while adding 0.5 points to LSU's team score.
"I thought both our teams really competed hard today. That's all you can ask them to do," said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. "We were able to get on the board today with some of the field events. We also gave ourselves an opportunity to score some points with some strong qualifying performances on the track. We're looking for a strong finish."
Ernest led a trio of Tiger track stars in qualifying for four finals on the track as he earned his spot in Sunday's championship finale in both the 60-meter and 200-meter dashes.
Ernest, who entered the meet as the NCAA's No. 3-ranked 200-meter sprinter with an indoor best of 20.79 this season, solidified his reputation as the championship favorite and the new world leader for 2013 while dominating the field in Saturday's qualifying. While lining up in lane No. 5 with Texas A&M's Ameer Webb to his inside, Ernest beat the defending NCAA Indoor champion to the finish line in the fourth qualifying heat with an indoor PR of 20.59. Webb followed with the second-fastest time of the day at 20.78.
Ernest supplanted Trinidad & Tobago's Olympic 400-meter bronze medalist Lalonde Gordon at the top of the world rankings in the 200 meters as Gordon owned the previous world leader of 20.60. Ernest also moved up two spots into the No. 3 position on LSU's all-time indoor performance list in the event.
The Homewood (Ala.) High School product has an opportunity to score big points for the Tigers as she also earned the last spot in the 60-meter final with a qualifying run of 6.70 on Saturday.
Other Tigers advancing to Sunday's championship finals were sophomore Joshua Thompson as the fifth-fastest qualifier in the 60-meter hurdles with his run of 7.89 and senior Caleb Williams as the sixth-fastest qualifier in the 400-meter dash with his seasonal-best time of 46.73.
"I knew I had the defending national champion on my inside, so I knew I had to get out fast and hold on at the end," Ernest said. "There wasn't really anybody running on my outside, so it was hard to tell how fast I was running. I feel like I've got a little bit left in me, so I'm looking forward to a fast final out here tomorrow."
Sunday's finale at the 2013 SEC Indoor Track & Field Championships is set to begin at 10 a.m. CT with the first field event finals followed by the first finals on the track at 12:35 p.m. Live results of the event can be found online at www.flashresults.com, while ESPN3.com will also provide live streaming video of Sunday's action from 12:30-5 p.m. CT at http://es.pn/SEC-TF-0224.
Fans can also receive live updates of the Tigers and Lady Tigers competing on Sunday by liking LSU Track & Field on Facebook and following @LSUTrackField on Twitter.