FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - The No. 3-ranked Lady Tigers certainly positioned themselves for a title run at the 2013 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships with a trio of top-five performances nationally during Saturday's finale at the Tyson Invitational held at Arkansas' Randal Tyson Track Center.
LSU's Lady Tigers also wrapped up the meet with a third-place finish in the invitational 4x400-meter relay while slashing nearly three seconds from their previous seasonal-best in the event and locking up a top-five national ranking in the event as they sprint toward the postseason.
The LSU women emerged from the weekend with a total of 10 performances that rank among the NCAA's Top 10 for 2013.
Perhaps none were more impressive on Saturday afternoon than Pitts, who twice smashed her lifetime PR in a runner-up finish in the women's triple. After jumping into second place with a mark of 41 feet, 10 inches on her second attempt, Pitts added to her mark with a jump of 42-2 on her third attempt before soaring to a new lifetime best of 43-1 on her fourth attempt to lock up second place overall in the final. She even finished the day with an impressive 42-10 ¼ on her sixth and final jump that also eclipsed her PR entering the meet.
Pitts, who now is the NCAA's No. 5-ranked triple jump this season, eclipsed her previous lifetime best of 42-9 ¾ set during the indoor season as a sophomore in 2012. She finished runner-up to the 45-7 ¾ by national championship contender Andrea Geubelle of Kansas in the second round of jumps.
"I felt really good today. My back has been bothering me a little bit this season, but I woke up this morning and I felt ready to go," Pitts said. "I knew I had to get something done. Everybody else has been pulling their weight this year, and I knew it had to be my turn today.
"I don't think I've ever had a series like that before. That's been my main thing this year, just working on being consistent and having good series. It's good to get a big jump, but it's even better to do it in a series like I had today. I think it shows that I'm starting to have some consistency in my jumps."
Pitts also talked about the importance of her performance coming in the same venue that will play host to the SEC and NCAA Championships in the coming weeks.
"I love the runway here at Arkansas. I don't know what it is about jumping here, but I always seem to do pretty well here. I already know when I get here that I expect to have good jumps. I don't know if I was expecting to have the kind of series like I had today, but it gives me a lot of confidence for when I come back here. I'm looking forward to that challenge."
As Pitts wrapped up second place in the invitational triple jump, the Lady Tigers eyed an improvement of their seasonal-best time entering the meet of 3 minutes, 36.45 seconds in the 4x400 relay.
And they responded with a seasonal-best performance as the team of senior Siedda Herbert (54.36), Duncan (53.23), sophomore Montenae Roye-Speight (53.15) and junior Natoya Goule (53.17) ran the NCAA's No. 4-ranked relay of the year at 3:33.91 for third place behind the national leaders from Texas (3:30.95) and runner-up Arkansas (3:31.78).
Saturday's finale at the 2013 Tyson Invitational also witnessed the end of one of the remarkable streaks in the history of collegiate track and field as Duncan saw her run of 18-straight collegiate victories in the 200-meter dash come to an end, despite racing to an indoor personal best in the event.
While lining up in lane No. 5 in the first section, Duncan battled Central Florida All-American Aurieyall Scott all the way to the finish line as Scott took the tape with an NCAA-leading and world-leading run of 22.68 seconds for the win. Duncan claimed second place with her indoor PR of 22.72, eclipsing her previous mark of 22.74 set in defending her national crown in the 200-meter final at the NCAA Indoor Championships held at the Jackson Indoor Track in Nampa, Idaho, a season ago.
It marked Duncan's first collegiate defeat at 200 meters in more than two years when she finished in third place at the New Balance Collegiate Invitational held Feb. 5, 2011, at The Armory in New York.
Ironically, Duncan's streak comes to an end at the same meet in which it began when she won the 200-meter title at the 2011 Tyson Invitational during her sophomore season.
Despite Saturday's setback, Duncan is poised to defend the NCAA crown she has won in each of the last two seasons as the only sprinter in the history of collegiate track and field to sweep NCAA Indoor and NCAA Outdoor 200-meter titles in back-to-back seasons with her performance as a sophomore in 2011 and as a junior in 2012.
While Duncan ran an indoor PR of 22.72 for the No. 2-ranked time in the NCAA and world rankings for 2013, both Herbert (24.38) and Roye-Speight (24.59) also ran indoor personal bests during the event. Roye-Speight actually wrapped up the weekend with indoor PRs in both the 200 meters at 24.59 and 400 meters at 54.73.
"Our women turned in some really strong performances today that will help our team when we come back here in a few weeks for the NCAA Championships," said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. "This is exactly what we hoped for coming to the Tyson meet this weekend. We've done about all we can do to this point to give ourselves an opportunity to compete in the postseason."
The Tigers were also impressive with their performance in Saturday's 200-meter heats as they also featured three athletes sprinting to indoor personal bests during the competition.
Freshman Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake continued his progression as one of the NCAA's rising sprint stars as he raced into the Top 20 of the national rankings while smashing his lifetime PR in the 200 meters. He won the 10th section with the fourth-fastest time of the afternoon at 21.08, breaking his previous lifetime best of 21.40 set two weeks ago on the same track at the Razorback Invitational. A product of Kingston's Jamaica College, Mitchell-Blake signed with the Tigers with a lifetime PR of 21.49 in the event.
Mitchell-Blake, who also set a personal best of 6.79 in the 60 meters on Friday night, is now ranked No. 18 among all sprinters nationally and No. 2 among freshmen in the NCAA for 2013. His 21.08 clocking also ties him for the No. 10 spot on LSU's all-time indoor performance list in the men's 200-meter dash.
Bush even ran a career-best and team-leading split of 46.02 seconds on the third leg of LSU's 4x400-meter relay in the invitational event to wrap up the meet as he raced with sophomore Quincy Downing (48.73), sophomore Aaron Ernest (48.37) and senior Caleb Williams (47.38) to a time of 3:10.49 for fourth place in the final.
It was another Jamaica College alum who got the ball rolling for the Tigers on Saturday afternoon as freshman Fitzroy Dunkley set a pair of personal bests while pulling double duty in simultaneous events in the college section of the men's high jump and triple jump.
After setting an indoor PR with a third-attempt clearance at 6-7 ½, Dunkley then cleared the bar at 6-9 on his third attempt to lock up seventh place in the event while establishing a lifetime best. Dunkley also jumped an indoor personal best of 48-10 ¼ on his first attempt in the triple jump to take fourth place in Saturday's opening event.
The Tiger jumpers continued their momentum into the afternoon when three athletes cleared matching heights of 17-3 in an exciting finish in the invitational pole vault.
Junior Thomas Reinecke and sophomore Andreas Duplantis recorded first-attempt clearances at 16-9 ¼ and 17-3 before going out of the competition with the bar resting at 17-9 to tie one another for the fifth position. Junior Jaora Johnson cleared a lifetime PR of 16-9 on his first attempt before raising his best with a clearance of 17-3 on his third and final attempt en route to an eighth-place finish. With the lifetime best for Johnson and an indoor best for Reinecke at 17-3, the Tiger tandem ties one another for the No. 10 spot on LSU's all-time performance list in the men's pole vault.
"We came there and got some things accomplished as a team," Shaver said. "Next week is an important week when we go back home as it will give a number of our athletes a chance to rest up and come back here in two weeks ready to compete for a championship. It will also give others another opportunity to get to where they want to be at the most important time of the year."
With this year's Tyson Invitational now in the rearview mirror, the Tigers and Lady Tigers will return home next weekend to play host to the annual LSU Twilight meet being held Friday, Feb. 15, at the Carl Maddox Field House in Baton Rouge. They will then return to the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville for the 2013 SEC Indoor Championships as they kick off the postseason on Feb. 24-26.