FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – LSU junior Vernon Norwood sprinted into the national championship race in the men’s 400-meter dash during Friday’s opener at the Tyson Invitational as he smashed his previous indoor personal best with a winning time of 45.81 seconds in the event held at the Randal Tyson Track Center at the University of Arkansas.
Lady Tiger senior Jasmin Stowers had already established herself as an NCAA title contender in the women’s 60-meter hurdles with four-straight victories to start the season, and she added a fifth-straight victory to an already impressive resume by knocking off the nation’s No. 1-ranked hurdler to set the pace for the Lady Tigers.
Freshman Nataliyah Friar also strengthened her NCAA qualifying position with a Top 10 performance nationally in winning the women’s championship long jump, while fellow freshman Blair Henderson set a lifetime PR of his own with a victory in the college division of the men’s 800 meters to round out LSU’s four event champions to kick off the competition.
But it was Norwood who turned in the highlight performance for the LSU Track & Field teams on the opening day of this year’s Tyson Invitational as he defended his meet championship in the 400-meter dash.
After watching Arkansas’ Neil Braddy run away with the first heat in 45.96 and Texas’ Zack Bilderback take the second heat in 46.47, Norwood left no doubt as to who would claim the event title as he took control of his race early on and crossed the finish line nearly one second ahead of his nearest competitor with a run of 45.81 for an easy victory in the third heat.
Florida State’s Alonzo Russell trailed Norwood across the finish line in the heat with his run of 46.57, while Braddy took second place and Bilderback took third place in the overall standings.
Norwood credited a faster start as the key to his race Friday as he slashed a half second off of his season-opening time of 46.31 from the Aggie Invitational in College Station, Texas, a week ago. He has quickly ascended the national rankings as the NCAA’s No. 3-ranked 400-meter sprinter with his winning performance.
“I just needed to be aggressive from the start,” Norwood said following his race. “I wasn’t too satisfied with the way I got out in the first 100 (meters) last week. I’ve got to get out faster to put myself in position to win. That’s what I did today. The competition is always good here, so you just have to get out here and compete. That’s what I wanted to do.”
One look at the national rankings will show that it will be a battle for the SEC and NCAA titles in the men’s 400 meters as the four fastest quartermilers in the country all hail from the Southeastern Conference.
While Norwood is the No. 3-ranked 400-meter runner in the NCAA and No. 5-ranked quartermiler in the world rankings for the 2014 indoor season, Texas A&M’s Deon Lendore tops the charts with his NCAA best 45.47 followed by Florida’s Arman Hall in the No. 2 spot with a seasonal best of 45.63. Braddy’s second-place time of 45.96 on Friday ranks him No. 4 nationally in the event this season.
“I respect all those guys and how good they are and what they can do,” Norwood said. “You come to LSU to run in the SEC against the best competition, and I just try to compete as hard as I can. It will be a big couple of weeks coming up. This gives me a good idea where I’m at heading to SECs and NCAAs. I’ll need to get back to practice and try to fix the things I need to work on.”
Norwood actually defended the Tyson Invitational title he won as a sophomore at South Plains College a year ago when he set his previous indoor PR of 46.02 after signing with the Tigers on National Signing Day 2013.
“Arkansas has a great track to run on,” Norwood said of his experience at the Randal Tyson Track Center. “The competition is always good here, so you’ll always have a chance to run fast on this track.”
Norwood was not the only Tiger to smash his indoor personal best during Friday’s 400-meter competition as fellow junior Quincy Downing followed by winning the fourth section with a seasonal-best time of 46.49. The Ohio native eclipsed his previous best of 46.61 set at the Aggie Invitational last week while moving into the No. 15 spot in the NCAA rankings with his performance on Friday afternoon.
Norwood and Downing now look forward to leading the Tigers in the 4x400-meter relay in Saturday’s finale as they also hope to strengthen their NCAA qualifying position in the event in Arkansas this weekend.
Fans at the Randal Tyson Track Center were treated to what is surely a preview of the NCAA final in the women’s 60-meter hurdles as Friday’s championship featured the top-four ranked hurdlers in the country on the season. Kentucky’s Kendra Harrison entered the meet as the national leader with her top time this season of 7.96, followed by Stowers in the No. 2 spot at 8.01, Baylor’s Tiffani McReynolds in the No. 3 spot at 8.05 and Texas Tech’s Le’Tristan Pledger in the No. 4 spot at 8.09.
But it was Stowers taking the title in arguably the most exciting finish of the day as she crossed the finish line in the championship final with her second-fastest time of the season at 8.03. Harrison was runner-up in 8.04 with McReynolds taking the third spot in 8.05 with only two one-hundredths of a second separating the top three places. Pledger fell in the semifinal round and did not advance to the final.
Stowers ran her winning streak to five-straight wins to open her senior season with her victory at the Tyson Invitational following wins at the Auburn Indoor Invitational (8.16), Texas A&M Triangular (8.18), New Mexico Team Invitational (8.01) and Aggie Invitational (8.08). She will surely meet her rivals again in one month when they line up at the 2014 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships being held March 14-15.
While Stowers won her fifth-straight hurdles title, Friar won her second-straight long jump crown and third in four meets while soaring into the Top 10 of the NCAA rankings with a lifetime personal record.
After qualifying for the championship final with a top jump of 19 feet, 2 inches in the preliminary round, Friar took a commanding lead with a career-best jump of 20-8 in the fourth round to move into a tie for the No. 7 spot in the national rankings this season. That mark secured her the victory as Arkansas’ Tamara Myers finished runner-up with a best of 20-4 ¼ in the final round.
Friar has now eclipsed the 20-foot mark in the long jump in four of LSU’s five meets this season as Friday’s victory followed wins at the Texas A&M Triangular (20-3) and Aggie Invitational (20-1 ¾) in recent weeks.
Henderson led a trio of LSU middle distance runners setting indoor personal bests during Friday’s opener at the Tyson Invitational while winning the college division of the men’s 800-meter run.
After opening the season with a previous indoor PR of 1 minute, 50.82 seconds in a runner-up finish at the Auburn Indoor Invitational, Henderson slashed more than one full second off his top time with a lifetime PR of 1:49.70 to win the second heat with the fastest time of the college division. It is a time that cracks the Top 30 of the NCAA rankings as Henderson is now the No. 28-ranked 800-meter runner on the men’s side this year, while also moving into a tie for the No. 10 spot on LSU’s all-time indoor performance list in the event.
Redshirt freshman Morgan Schuetz also broke her lifetime best by more than one second with a time of 2:08.86 to take third place in the college division and senior Nikita Tracey followed by running 2:09.51 to take 10th place in the championship division of the women’s 800 meters that were also held as part of Friday’s opener at this year’s Tyson Invitational.
Also making an appearance in the championship finals on Friday night was Tiger junior Joshua Thompson, who placed sixth in the men’s 60-meter hurdles with a run of 8.00 following times of 7.95 and 7.98 in qualifying.
“We took a big step forward as a team today,” said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “We always target the Tyson Invitational as an opportunity for our athletes to go out and compete and better position themselves for a spot in the NCAA Championships. We had a number of athletes who certainly did that today. We look forward to another opportunity to improve when we come back here tomorrow.”
Other LSU athletes setting indoor personal bests during Friday’s events were junior Philip Primeaux (4:09.25) in the mile, junior Jeremy Tuttle (61-0) in the weight throw, junior Mariah Georgetown (8.34) in the 60 hurdles, freshman Bryiana Richardson (8.53) in the 60 hurdles and freshman Tremayne Acy (6.75) in the 60-meter dash.
Primeaux actually kicked off the meet as he smashed his previous best of 4:14.09 in the mile by nearly five seconds by taking home a third-place finish in the men’s college division in the first event of the day.
The Tigers and Lady Tigers will return to the Randal Tyson Track Center on Saturday afternoon for the finale of the 2014 Tyson Invitational that is set to begin at noon CT with the field events followed by the first events on the track at 1 p.m. Fans can receive live up-to-the-second coverage of the LSU Track & Field teams competing at the Tyson Invitational by following @LSUTrackField on Twitter.