Track & Field Teams Close Strong at NCAA Prelims
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The rosters are set for the semifinals of the 2014 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships as the Tigers and Lady Tigers added 12 more qualifiers to their squads making the trip to Eugene, Oregon, in two weeks during Saturday’s finale at the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds held this weekend at North Florida’s Hodges Stadium.
LSU Track & Field emerged from the preliminary rounds with 23 NCAA semifinalists over three days of competition, including 10 qualifiers for the Tigers and 13 qualifiers for the Lady Tigers in Jacksonville.
They have now earned the right to represent the program in the semifinal and final rounds of the 2014 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships that will be held June 11-14 at Oregon’s Hayward Field.
Among the Tigers adding their names to LSU’s semifinalists on Saturday afternoon were juniors Rodney Brown (discus), Aaron Ernest (200 meters) and Joshua Thompson (110 hurdles), sophomore Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake (200 meters) and both their NCAA-title-contending 4x100-meter and 4x400-meter relay teams.
The Lady Tigers also bolstered their team heading to Eugene for the NCAA Championships with seniors Lynnika Pitts (triple jump), Jasmin Stowers (100 hurdles) and Toshika Sylvester (200 meters); junior Tori Bliss (shot put); sophomore Chanice Chase (100 hurdles) and their 4x100-meter relay team to highlight the final day of the competition.
“What a way for us to end the first three days of the meet here in Jacksonville with the performances we saw today,” said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “I thought our athletes really stepped it up across the board to give both our teams the best opportunity we can have to compete in Eugene. That’s how important today was. We’ll be going to Eugene with really our full-strength squads, which we’re looking forward to.
“These next two weeks of preparation will be critical for our teams to make sure we go to Eugene healthy and with the right mindset to compete for those top finishes we expect at LSU.”
Brown will certainly head to Eugene with the goal of earning All-American honors and challenging for the NCAA crown in the men’s discus throw again this season after emerging from Saturday’s finale at the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds as the top qualifier with a series-best throw of 207 feet, 10 inches for first place in the quarterfinals.
Brown has displayed his NCAA-title-contending form throughout his junior season in 2014 as he has now eclipsed his personal best entering the campaign no less than four times over the course of the spring, including LSU’s school record and the NCAA’s No. 4-ranked mark on the year at 210-10 in his victory at the Penn Relays. He has also thrown 206-5 at the Texas Relays and 207-10 at the LSU Invitational this spring.
A native of Chappell Hill, Texas, Brown earned All-America honors in the discus throw for the first time a year ago when he placed fourth nationally at the NCAA Championships to end his sophomore season.
“In a competition like this, it was easy to get motivated because we had some big throws early on. It’s easy to get myself motivated in a competition like that,” Brown said. “I wanted to just slow it down a little bit. I feel like when I try to start throwing hard, I pull my head off or get in a bad rhythm with my throws. When I take things slow, I actually get into the positions I need to be in. I think it kind of set the tone for the day.”
As Brown was wrapping up qualifying in the men’s discus throw, Lady Tiger junior Tori Bliss was earning her trip to Eugene in the women’s shot put being contested on the opposite side of Hodges Stadium as she had a top throw of the day at 54-6 in the third round of qualifying to take fifth place into the quarterfinals and finish in sixth place in the final event standings.
Bliss, a product of Portage, Indiana, has advanced to the NCAA semifinals for the first time in her collegiate career as she will look to earn her first career All-America honor while throwing the shot at Hayward Field.
With Brown and Bliss already with one foot on the plane to Eugene, the Tigers and Lady Tigers continued their momentum in the first quarterfinal races on the track as each clocked the third-fastest time for the day for the 4x100-meter relay to book their annual trip back to the NCAA Championships as one of the nation’s top performers in the event.
The Tigers were the first to step onto the track in Saturday’s finale as Mitchell-Blake and Ernest teamed up with freshman Tremayne Acy and senior Shermund Allsop to run 39.04 seconds in the second heat to finish as the runners-up to heat winner South Carolina (39.98). LSU finished the men’s quarterfinal with the third-fastest time of the day as Florida won the third heat in 38.93.
Ernest and Mitchell-Blake later returned to the track to punch their ticket into the national semifinals in the men’s 200-meter dash. Ernest, who qualified in the 100 meters on Friday night, clocked 20.38 (+0.5) to end up second to Florida’s Dedric Dukes (20.23) in the first heat, while Mitchell-Blake smashed his seasonal best with a run of 20.69 (+1.2) for second place to Northwestern State’s Justin Walker (20.58) in the third heat.
The Lady Tigers followed by taking the tape in the first of three women’s heats in the 4x100-meter relay as they raced to their second-fastest time for 2014 at 43.94 with a squad of Stowers, Sylvester, freshman Rushell Harvey and freshman Nataliyah Friar. They took the tape ahead of SEC rivals South Carolina (44.20) and Alabama (44.24), while trailing Florida (43.64) and Ohio State (43.92) in the final standings after the Gators and Buckeyes finished 1-2 in the second heat.
Like Ernest and Mitchell-Blake on the men’s side, Stowers and Sylvester qualified for the NCAA semifinals in their individual events on the women’s side to continue LSU’s momentum down the homestretch.
Stowers will have an opportunity to earn her seventh career All-America honor in the sprint hurdles when she lines up in the semifinal round of the 100-meter hurdles in Eugene after winning the first quarterfinal heat in 12.91 (+0.6) ahead of Auburn’s Samantha Scarlett (13.01). Teammate Chanice Chase followed in third place in the race with a time of 13.27 to grab the third automatic qualifying spot in the heat just one day after she earned her spot in the NCAA semifinals in the 400-meter hurdles on Friday night with a heat-winning performance of her own.
Sylvester will line up in the national semifinals of the women’s 200-meter dash for the first time in her collegiate career after qualifying on time with a run of 23.59 (+0.7) that earned her fourth place in the second heat, and 11th place overall in the quarterfinal round. Sylvester will run in her first NCAA semifinal since her freshmen year when she advanced in the 100 meters during the 2011 season.
Also qualifying for the NCAA semifinals for the first time in his career was Tiger junior Joshua Thompson, who raced to a wind-legal personal best of 13.77 (+0.2) to claim the third automatic spot in the first heat with his quickest performance of his athletic career. Thompson, who entered the meet with a previous best of 13.80 set in his freshman season at Pittsburgh in 2012, clocked the ninth-fastest time of the quarterfinals.
Sophomore teammate Joshua Lamers lined up in the same hurdle race as Thompson, and matched his personal best of 13.95 for sixth place in the heat and 19th place overall in his first NCAA quarterfinal.
With the afternoon’s events winding down before the running of the 4x400-meter relays, Lady Tiger senior Lynnika Pitts rounded out LSU’s individual qualifiers with an impressive performance in the triple jump as she opened with a best 43-1 (+0.3) on her first attempt to take third place into the quarterfinals before finishing in ninth place overall while passing her final three jumps of the competition.
Pitts, the reigning NCAA Indoor bronze medalist in the triple jump, will cap an outstanding senior season outdoors when she competes in both the high jump and triple jump at Hayward Field in two weeks.
The Tigers then went out in style in the final event of the meet when they sprinted to the top time in the field in the 4x400-meter relay, clocking a seasonal-best time of 3 minutes, 2.64 seconds to outlast the foursome from Western Kentucky (3:03.02) to the finish line in the second of three heats. The Hilltoppers posted the second-fastest time of the quarterfinals with their runner-up finish to the Tigers in the heat, while Florida had the third-fastest time in the field at 3:03.59 to win the third heat.
Running a seasonal best of 3:02.64 for the Tigers were junior Quincy Downing (46.25), sophomore Darrell Bush (45.83), sophomore Cyril Grayson (45.86) and junior Vernon Norwood (44.70) as the quartet will now look to sweep NCAA titles for 2014 after already being crowned the NCAA Indoor Champions in the 4x400-meter relay.
“I couldn’t be more proud with the way our athletes competed over the course of this weekend,” Shaver said following the meet. “The first three days of what is a seven-day NCAA Championship are now finished and in the books. We can only move forward from here and prepare ourselves the best we can to compete from the moment we get to Eugene.”
In other action, senior Keri Emanuel jumped 41-9 ¼ for 19th place in the women’s triple jump in her final appearance as a Lady Tiger, while sophomore Kiersten Duncan (23.76) finished in 17th place and freshman Rushell Harvey (24.15) took 22nd place in the women’s 200 meters, and junior Andreas Duplantis cleared 16-11 ½ for 24th place and senior Jaora Johnson cleared 16-5 ½ for 26th place in the men’s pole vault.
The Lady Tigers lined up in the final race of the meet in the women’s 4x400-meter relay, and nearly set a seasonal best with a run of 3:35.79 for a fourth-place finish in the third heat and a 15th-place finish overall.
LSU’s Qualifiers for the NCAA Championships Semifinals in Eugene, Oregon
Note: All marks and times were achieved this weekend at the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds.
Name, Event, Time/Mark (Place)
Rodney Brown, Discus, 207-10 (1)
Quincy Downing, 400 Hurdles, 50.49 (2)
Aaron Ernest, 100 Meters, 10.19 (3)
Aaron Ernest, 200 Meters, 20.38 (2)
Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, 200 Meters, 20.69 (9)
Vernon Norwood, 400 Meters, 45.17 (2)
Joshua Thompson, 110 Hurdles, 13.77 (9)
Jeremy Tuttle, Hammer Throw, 213-10 (9)
Mitchell-Blake, Ernest, Acy, Allsop; 4x100 Relay; 39.04 (3)
Downing, Bush, Grayson, Norwood; 4x400 Relay; 3:02.64 (1)
Name, Event, Time/Mark (Place)
Tori Bliss, Shot Put, 54-6 (6)
Chanice Chase, 100 Hurdles, 13.27 (11)
Chanice Chase, 400 Hurdles, 56.40 (4)
Nataliyah Friar, Long Jump, 20-5 ¾ (8)
Rushell Harvey, 100 Meters, 11.46w (9)
Denise Hinton, Hammer Throw, 202-2 (5)
Lynnika Pitts, High Jump, 5-9 ¾ (T8)
Lynnika Pitts, Triple Jump, 43-1 (9)
Jasmin Stowers, 100 Hurdles, 12.91 (2)
Toshika Sylvester, 200 Meters, 23.59 (11)
Nikita Tracey, 400 Hurdles, 56.23 (3)
Rebekah Wales, Javelin, 162-9 (11)
Stowers, Sylvester, Harvey, Friar; 4x100 Relay; 43.94 (3)