LEXINGTON, Ky. – Silver-medal-winning runner-up finishes by senior Jasmin Stowers, junior Vernon Norwood and the Tigers’ 4x100-meter relay sparked the LSU Track & Field teams to a strong finish with five All-SEC performances in Sunday’s finale at the 2014 SEC Outdoor Track & Field Championships at the Kentucky Outdoor Track & Field Complex.
While lining up as the defending SEC Champions in the men’s 4x100-meter relay, the Tigers raced to a seasonal-best time of 38.68 seconds on Sunday afternoon to finish as this year’s SEC silver medalists in the opening event on the track. Their performance kicked off the scoring the Tigers and Lady Tigers in an exciting conclusion to this year’s championship.
Stowers followed with a runner-up finish in the women’s 100-meter hurdles after clocking 13.03 in the final, while Norwood ran a personal best of 45.17 for a second-place finish in the men’s 400-meter dash.
Also turning in All-SEC performances on the final day of the competition were senior Lynnika Pitts with a third-place finish in the women’s triple jump and the Tigers in the men’s 4x400-meter relay as the team’s ended the meet with five individuals and two relay teams earning All-SEC honors with their performance.
The Lady Tigers scored 65.5 points in four days of competition to take home a sixth-place finish in the final women’s team standings, while the Tigers scored 43 points of their own to earn an eighth-place finish with the final men’s team standings on Sunday. The Texas A&M men (155) and Arkansas women (123) took home the team titles at the 2014 SEC Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
Rounding out the top five teams in the final men’s team race were Arkansas in second place with 116.5 points, Florida in third place with 93 points, Georgia in fourth place with 92 points and Ole Miss in fifth place with a total of 78 points. The women’s team race saw Florida in second place with 116.5 points, Texas A&M in third place with 113 points, Kentucky in fourth place with 104 points and Georgia in fifth place with 70.5 points.
“I thought we had some outstanding individual performances from both our teams here this weekend, and we really saw which athletes are ready to take that next step and really help our team as we now go forward from here to the NCAA Championships,” said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “To be honest, we need to see more of that type of commitment across the board to achieve at the level we expect and come away with a team finish that we know we can achieve on both sides at the national meet.
“We’ve got two big weeks of training coming up before we go again. We look forward to this time of year more than any other, and I know our athletes will prepare themselves well these next couple of weeks.”
The men’s 4x100-meter relay was billed as one of the marquee events of this year’s SEC Outdoor Championships as it featured the NCAA’s top three teams in a race for SEC glory to kick off the championship season.
With sophomore Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, junior Aaron Ernest, freshman Tremayne Acy and senior Shermund Allsop lining up for the Tigers, they found themselves in a dead heat with Florida and Texas A&M running down the homestretch. The Aggies were the first team to cross the finish line in 38.50 to take the title, while the Tigers nipped the Gators for the silver medal with both teams running 38.68 in the heat.
The Tigers set a new 2014 seasonal best with their performance as they came up just a split second shy of defending the SEC relay title they won a season ago in Columbia, Missouri. They slashed nearly two tenths of a second off of their seasonal best of 38.83 coming into the meet while running the No. 10-ranked 4x100-meter relay time in the history of the LSU program.
After running the second leg for the Tigers in the 4x100-meter relay, Ernest returned to the track to take home a pair of sixth-place finishes in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes while adding six more points to LSU’s team total. Racing into a headwind, Ernest clocked 10.48 (-0.8) for a sixth-place finish in the 100 meters before running 20.83 (-0.5) for a sixth-place finish in the 200 meters to cap his afternoon.
Mitchell-Blake joined Ernest in the 200-meter final as he sprinted to a seasonal best for the second-straight day with at time of 21.00 (-0.5) for eighth place in his second finals appearance at the SEC Outdoor meet.
Junior All-American and NCAA title hopeful Vernon Norwood turned in the performance of the day for the Tigers and Lady Tigers as he smashed his lifetime personal best with a silver-medal-winning run of 45.17 in the men’s 400-meter final as he emerged as the NCAA’s No. 2-ranked quartermiler this season and the No. 6-ranked performer in school history while taking home All-SEC honors.
Norwood finished runner-up to the 44.36 turned in by Texas A&M’s SEC Outdoor champion Deon Lendore as the Aggie junior nearly set a meet record in the win, while finishing well ahead of such All-America favorites as Florida’s Najee Glass (45.40), Texas A&M’s Bralon Taplin (45.66), Florida’s Hugh Graham, Jr. (45.77) and Texas A&M’s Carlyle Roudette (45.80).
“I’m not satisfied by my time because I know I have a lot of improvement to make from here. I can’t wait to get back to practice, work on what I need to and hopefully shoot for the stars in June,” Norwood said. “I’m in great shape. I feel like I’m getting better every week. Coming to the SEC meet, I knew it was going to be tough with the athletes we have in this conference. I just tried to come out today with a great mindset to go out and compete and do my part for my team, because I know they need that from me.
“I got out pretty well in my race. I came off the 300-meter mark pretty well, and I just tried to finish strong. He (Deon Lendore) just had the best of me for right now. I look forward to racing again at nationals.”
Two other Tigers joined Norwood in the 400-meter final as junior Quincy Downing nipped sophomore Cyril Grayson at the finish line as both ran 46.45 in the race to finish in seventh and eighth place, respectively. LSU’s Grayson set a personal best for the second-straight day as he followed his 46.49 in Saturday’s qualifying with an eighth-place time of 46.45 in Sunday’s championship final.
Downing added another point to the Tigers’ team score when he returned to the track to run in the final of the men’s 400-meter hurdles, clocking 52.97 for an eighth-place finish in the championship final.
Each of LSU’s 400-meter finalists later wrapped up the meet with a bronze-medal-winning All-SEC performance in the 4x400-meter relay as they joined sophomore Fitzroy Dunkley in taking third place in the event.
Running with the order of Downing, Grayson, Dunkley and Norwood, the Tigers crossed the finish line in 3 minutes, 4.33 seconds to finish as this year’s SEC Outdoor bronze medalists in the mile relay behind SEC champ Texas A&M (3:01.19) and silver medalist Florida (3:03.04) in what proved to be an exciting finish to this year’s championship.
Stowers had already cemented her legacy as one of the most decorated hurdlers in the history of the Lady Tiger program before Sunday’s SEC finale, but she added yet another honor to her resume as this year’s silver medalist in the women’s 100-meter hurdles as she clocked 13.03 (-0.4) into a slight headwind to finish behind only Kentucky’s hometown favorite Kendra Harrison (12.86) in her bid to win a third career SEC title.
Stowers earned a seventh career All-SEC honor in the sprint hurdles between the indoor and outdoor seasons as one of the most decorated Lady Tigers in the history of the SEC Championships. She will end her tenure as a five-time SEC hurdles champion, which includes three-straight SEC Indoor titles in the 60 hurdles from 2011-13 and back-to-back SEC Outdoor titles in the 100 hurdles in 2011 and 2012.
It was the 400-meter hurdles where Chase left her mark on this year’s SEC Outdoor Championships as she slashed nearly one full second off of her personal best in the event while running in Sunday’s final. She posted a time of 56.27 for a fifth-place finish while moving into the No. 6 spot in the NCAA rankings this season and the No. 6 spot on LSU’s all-time performance list. Chase lined up in her first career SEC final in the 400 hurdles with a previous best of 57.23 that was set in her last appearance at the LSU Invitational on May 3.
The Lady Tigers piled up nine points in the final of the 400 hurdles as senior Nikita Tracey also smashed her seasonal best in the event with a run of 56.23 to take fourth place with the fifth-fastest time nationally for this season. Claiming the medal positions in the event ahead of Tracey and Chase were Harrison (54.76) and Texas A&M’s Janeil Bellille (55.67) and Shamier Little (56.01).
The Lady Tigers opened the day by also scoring nine points in the women’s triple jump as senior Lynnika Pitts led the way by setting a personal best to complete her sweep of SEC bronze medals in the event in 2014.
After posting back-to-back marks of 42 feet, 2 inches and 42-4 on her first two jumps of the competition, Pitts soared to a wind-legal personal best of 43-4 ½ (+1.0) on her third attempt to qualify for the final. That mark held up for a third-place finish as Pitts completed her sweep of SEC Indoor and SEC Outdoor bronze medals in the triple jump in her final collegiate season.
Fellow senior Keri Emanuel set a seasonal best of her own with a series-best mark of 42-6 ¾ (+1.3) also in the third round that earned her a sixth-place finish while scoring three points. Freshman Nataliyah Friar jumped a wind-legal PR of 40-11 ½ (+1.7) on her third attempt en route to a 12th-place finish in her debut at the SEC Outdoor Championships.
Also setting a personal best while adding to the Lady Tigers’ team total on Sunday afternoon was freshman Morgan Schuetz, who set a PR by exactly one second in the women’s 800-meter final with a run of 2:07.02 for a sixth-place finish in her first career SEC final in the event. Schuetz lined up with a previous best of 2:08.02 that she set at the LSU Alumni Gold meet back on April 19 during the regular season.
Other scorers for the Lady Tigers included junior Tori Bliss with a mark of 164-10 for fifth place in the discus and their 4x400-meter relay team with a run of 3:37.59 for seventh place in the final event of the meet.
Two other Tigers also added two points toward the team’s total score with their pair of seventh-place finishes as senior Jaora Johnson cleared the bar at 16-10 ¾ in the pole vault and sophomore Joshua Lamers clocked 14.00 (+0.4) in the 110-meter hurdles. Also setting personal bests during Sunday’s finale at the SEC Championships were Philip Moody (204-2) and Garret LeBouef (197-11) in javelin qualifying.
After kicking off the championship season at the SEC Outdoor Track & Field Championships this weekend, the Tigers and Lady Tigers will now turn their attention to the NCAA Championships and the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds that will be held at North Florida’s Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville from May 29-31. The semifinal and final round of the 2014 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships will then follow for June 11-14 at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field in Eugene.