NEW YORK - Sophomore sprint star Aaron Ernest solidified his reputation as a national championship contender in the 200-meter dash as he remained undefeated this season with a dominating victory in Saturday's finale at the 13th-annual Armory Collegiate Invitational at the New Balance Track & Field Center at The Armory.
Ernest became LSU's fifth event champion for the weekend as he joined a quartet of seniors Laura Carleton (3,000 meters), Kimberlyn Duncan (60 meters), Damar Forbes (long jump) and Charlene Lipsey (1,000 meters) on the winner's podium with his performance.
Friday's victories by the likes of Carleton, Duncan and Lipsey propelled the No. 5-ranked Lady Tigers to the women's team championship with 73 points at this year's Armory Collegiate Invitational. It is the sixth time in the meet's 13-year history and the first time since 2008 that the Lady Tigers have taken home the team title.
The Lady Tigers outlasted Clemson (69) in second place, Kansas (57.5) in third place and South Carolina (48) in fourth place in the final women's team standings.
LSU Track & Field has now won 10 team titles all-time at the Armory Collegiate Invitational as the Tigers last captured the men's crown in 2011 for their fourth win in 13 seasons.
The Tigers scored 53.5 points in two days of action at The Armory to finish as the men's team runner-up for the second-straight season. The Texas A&M Aggies finished 8.5 points clear of the Tigers to win the men's team title with 62 points for the meet. Clemson followed in third place with 48 points, while Tennessee scored 46 points to finish in fourth place.
"I think both our teams made a great showing here this weekend. I'm very proud with how we competed more than anything," said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. "We did some great things that I know will put our teams in a position to succeed at the NCAA meet. We took another big step as a team this weekend."
Ernest continued his dominance of the 200-meter sprint and remained undefeated for the 2013 season while turning in one of the all-time great performances in the history of The Armory.
After qualifying with the fastest time of the preliminary round at 21.14 to win the first heat, Ernest lined up in lane No. 5 in the third of three sections in the men's championship final with Illinois' Brandon Stryganek in lane No. 3 and Maryland-Eastern Shore's Andre Walsh in lane No. 4 to his inside and Texas A&M's Prezel Hardy, Jr. in lane No. 6 on his outside shoulder.
With the crack of the starter's pistol, Ernest was off as he made up the stagger on Hardy, Jr. down the backstretch and gained the advantage at 100 meters. The Tiger star then pulled away from the Aggie All-American around the final turn and sprinted to the finish line with a winning time of 20.83 that drew a resounding cheer from the crowd . Ernest tied for the third-fastest 200 meters ever run in the 13-year history of the Armory Collegiate Invitational as he finished four-tenths of a second ahead of Hardy, Jr.'s 21.23 for second place.
Walsh finished third in the heat and fourth overall at 21.38, while Stryganek clocked 21.43 for fourth in the race. Clemson's Tevin Hester took third place overall after taking the second heat in 21.25.
Ernest remains the NCAA's No. 3-ranked 200-meter sprinter for 2013 with his indoor best of 20.79 in a victory at the Texas A&M Triangular on Jan. 19. While he still trails Hardy, Jr.'s 20.78 for the No. 2 spot in the national rankings this season, Ernest holds a 2-0 advantage in head-to-head competition with the Aggie star.
With his performance, Ernest becomes the third LSU Tiger to win the 200-meter title at the Armory Collegiate Invitational as he joins former Tiger stars Xavier Carter (2005) and Melville Rogers (2007).
Ernest certainly remembers the first time he stepped on the 200-meter oval at The Armory when he ran 22.13 in the qualifying heats as a freshman a year ago.
"I ran 22 something on this same track last year, so I'm really excited to come back here and show what I do in a competition like this, Ernest said. "It's not easy to run the 200 on this track. I'm excited that I was able to run that well. I felt really good running the prelim, so I knew I would come back and run pretty fast in the final.
"There are always great sprinters in this meet. To be one of the fastest ever to run here means a lot, but I wanted to win it today."
Ernest continues his momentum from a breakout freshman season outdoors in 2012 when he captured an impressive three All-America honors in his debut at the NCAA Outdoor Championships before a haul of three medals for the United States at the IAAF World Junior Championships last summer. He was the silver medalist in both the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes at World Juniors last year and the anchor leg for the gold-medal-winning 4x100-meter relay for the United States.
"I didn't have the confidence running indoors last year like I do right now," Ernest said. "Doing what I did during the outdoor season last year has really helped me this year. I know I've got what it takes to compete indoors just like I do outdoors. It's been a great season so far, and I want to keep it going each week."
Downing was the first to step onto the track as he scored five points with a fourth-place finish in the men's championship 800 meters while running an indoor PR of 1 minute, 50.96 seconds. Downing's PR outdoors is 1:50.68 set during his freshman season a year ago. Bush, who has run an outdoor best of 46.95 in the 400 meters, ran his third indoor PR in as many races this season with a run of 47.26 to earn fifth place in Friday's championship final. Bush ran a previous best of 47.37 in Friday's qualifying round.
The Lady Tigers scored the majority of their points in the field events during Saturday's finale, including a combined 18 points between the triple jump and weight throw.
Junior Denise Hinton led the way as she continued the momentum from a record-setting Friday night for the Lady Tigers by matching her own school record in a second-place finish in the weight throw. A series-best mark of 69 feet, 9 ¾ inches locked up a runner-up finish for the Peachtree City, Ga., native as she trailed only event champion Alena Krechyk of Kansas (71-4 ¾) in the standings. Hinton moved into the No. 6 spot in the NCAA rankings with her performance while equaling her school record set at the LSU NCAA Indoor Qualifier a year ago.
Hinton wasn't the only Lady Tiger to set a seasonal-best in the weight throw final as fellow junior Karen Henning threw 60-7 ¾ for seventh place. Henning owns a personal best of 60-10 in the event.
The Lady Tigers added eight points with a strong showing in the championship triple jump as junior Keri Emanuel jumped a series-best 41-8 ½ for third place and junior Lynnika Pitts posted a new seasonal best of 40-10 ½ for seventh place in the competition. Emanuel already ranks No. 4 in the NCAA with a best of 42-8 ¾ this season.
LSU's women clinched their team championship with a third-place finish in the 4x400-meter relay with senior Siedda Herbert, senior Charlene Lipsey, junior Nikita Tracey and sophomore Montenae Roye-Speight running 3 minutes, 38.65 seconds for second place in the third heat. Arkansas won the relay in 3:35.20, while Clemson followed second place at 3:38.06 to win the second heat.
Other LSU athletes setting indoor personal bests on Saturday afternoon were sophomore Philip Primeaux (8:38.37) in the 3,000 meters and freshman Fitzroy Dunkley (48-8 ¼) in a second-place finish with the men's college triple jump.
"I thought our athletes performed very well across all of the event areas this weekend," Shaver said. "We talk so much with our athletes about the importance of taking advantage of each opportunity to compete. It's not always about how fast you run or how far you might jump or throw. It's about how hard you compete when given the chance. We saw a lot of that here this weekend."
The Tigers and Lady Tigers will now head back to the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville, Ark., next weekend to compete in the Tyson Invitational being held Feb. 8-9. The University of Arkansas will also play host to the SEC Indoor Championships on Feb. 22-24 and the NCAA Indoor Championships on March 8-9.