DES MOINES, Iowa - Saturday's 2011 season finale at Drake Stadium provided one of history's most exciting endings to the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships as LSU athletes claimed three titles while leading the Tigers and Lady Tigers to a pair of trophy-winning top-four finishes for their performance in four days of competition in Des Moines.
After anchoring the Lady Tigers to a dominating national championship victory in the 4x100-meter relay, sophomore Kimberlyn Duncan completed the 2011 season sweep in the 200-meter dash as she took home the gold medal in record-setting fashion with one of the fastest performances in collegiate history.
Junior Barrett Nugent then captured his first career NCAA crown in the men's 110-meter hurdles after his 2010 season in which he finished as the NCAA Outdoor silver medalist in the event.
If that weren't enough, the Tigers wrapped up the meet with an exciting second-place finish in the 4x400-meter relay to complete the scoring with the second-fastest time all-time by LSU's mile relay team.
|LSU's Men's Team|
|LSU's Women's Team|
The Lady Tigers locked up a third-place finish in the final team standings while scoring 43.5 points in the meet to finish behind Texas A&M (49) and Oregon (45) in the race for the national championship. Teams finishing in the top five of the final women's standings also include Oklahoma (42) and Arizona (35).
Nugent's victory in the 110-meter hurdles clinched a fourth-place finish for the Tigers in this year's event as his 10 points gave his team 38 points with only the 4x400-meter relay remaining. After picking up their second place in the relay, the Tigers finished in fourth place overall with 46 points behind three teams just separated by two points for the team title in Texas A&M (55), Florida State (54) and Florida (53).
The Tigers and Lady Tigers matched their performance from this year's NCAA Indoor Championships as the women captured two third-place finishes and the men claimed two fourth-place finishes in 2011. Both teams also improved upon their sixth-place finishes at the NCAA Outdoor Championships a year ago.
LSU Track & Field is the only program nationwide to take home four team trophies from the NCAA meet in 2011. Championship trophies are awarded to teams earning a top-four finish in the final team standings at both the NCAA Indoor and NCAA Outdoor meets over the course of an athletic season.
Texas A&M defended NCAA Outdoor team titles won on both the men's and women's sides in 2009 and 2010 as it became the first program in collegiate history to complete the sweep in three-straight years.
"This is certainly one of the most unusual meets I've been a part of," said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver following the awards presentation. "Teams always face some adversity in a competition like this, and just one team in the end can win it. You have to give a lot of credit to Texas A&M and the way they competed this week. Our goal is always to win the national championship. We're going to keep working toward that and come back here next year to make another run at it.
"I thought our athletes represented themselves very well this week. I'm proud of their effort and how they competed throughout the meet. We saw some tremendous performances and are very encouraged where it is we are as a team looking ahead to next year. We'll bring a great group back here in 2012."
When Saturday's action went live to a nationwide audience on CBS, the Lady Tigers stepped on the track in the first event of the afternoon with an eye on a national championship in the 4x100-meter relay.
After qualifying for the final with their seasonal-best time of 42.94 in Wednesday's semifinal round, LSU lined up with the squad of senior Kenyanna Wilson, junior Semoy Hackett, junior Rebecca Alexander and Duncan in search of its first NCAA title in the sprint relay since 2004.
But to do so, the Lady Tigers knew they would have to take down the four-time defending NCAA champs in the event as Texas A&M countered with an order of Gabby Mayo, Jeneba Tarmoh, Dominique Duncan and Ashley Collier in an attempt to defend its 4x100-meter relay national championship.
LSU blew away the competition in Saturday's final with a seasonal-best time of 42.64 seconds to take the collegiate lead in the event and snap the streak of four-straight NCAA titles by the Aggies in the event dating back to the 2007 season. The Lady Tigers won their lucky 13th national title in the 4x100 relay with their fifth-fastest time in program history and their fastest since running 42.59 in 2008.
Texas A&M finished well back in second place with the time of 42.93, while Southern California (43.42), Central Florida (43.67) and Texas (44.06) rounded out the top five in the sprint relay final.
The work for Duncan and Hackett would not be complete until after the women's 200-meter final running within 40 minutes of the conclusion of their victory in the 4x100-meter relay.
Duncan lined up in the final as the favorite after setting a wind-legal personal best of 22.39 in the qualifier on Thursday that earned her the No. 1 seed and preferred Lane 5 on Saturday. She also lined up as winner of six-straight 200-meter finals dating back to the Tyson Invitational indoors on Feb. 12, a streak boasting an NCAA Indoor title and a sweep of SEC Indoor and SEC Outdoor titles this season.
Duncan took control of the race early while running strong on the curve. She finished even stronger to the tune of a 2011 world-leading 22.24 for a new wind-legal lifetime personal best. That performance also set a new Drake Stadium record in the women's 200-meter dash, breaking the previous record of 22.32 set by Houston's Ebony Floyd during the 2007 season.
Tarmoh followed Duncan in second place with a time of 22.34, while Baylor's Tiffany Townsend was the third-place finisher in 22.58 in one of the fastest 200-meter finals in recent memory. Hackett finished with a sixth-place finish after clocking a seasonal-best wind-legal time of 22.87.
While eight different Lady Tigers have won NCAA titles in the 200-meter dash all-time, Duncan joins the great Dawn Sowell (1989) as the only two to complete the NCAA sweep of indoor and outdoor crowns in the same season. She is also the first to win the NCAA Outdoor title since Peta-Gaye Dowdie (2000).
Duncan continues her climb to the top of the all-time collegiate list as her 22.24 is the third-fastest time in NCAA history. It also ranks No. 2 in school history behind Sowell's collegiate record of 22.04.
Duncan has really taken her performance to another level as a sophomore as she is developing into one of the world's leading 200-meter specialists. She failed to make it out of the NCAA semifinals as a freshman in 2010 while running 23.58 in her first career appearance at the NCAA Championships.
"My main focus is always just to stay focused, run my race and take each event one by one," Duncan said following her 200-meter victory. "I knew those girls were going to get out and go. I just wanted to run out with them and close like I know how. It's just a huge improvement from last year to this year. I'm not just dropping my times, but I'm better and more efficient in how I run the race."
Nugent certainly led the charge for the Tigers on the meet's final day while winning his first career crown in the 110-meter hurdles after finishing as the national runner-up in his last two NCAA finals.
In fact, Nugent finished runner-up to Illinois' Andrew Riley in each of the last two NCAA Championship meets with second-place finishes in the 110 hurdles at the NCAA Outdoor meet in 2010 and 60 hurdles at the NCAA Indoor meet in 2011. And perhaps Nugent was an afterthought to those watching in Saturday's final after drawing Lane 8 as one of the field's at-large qualifiers from the semifinal round.
But Nugent saved his best race for his last race of the collegiate season as he crossed the finish line with a wind-aided time of 13.28 (+3.6) to edge Riley (13.33) at the tape for the national title.
He is the first LSU Tiger to be crowned the NCAA champion in the 110-meter hurdles since LSU Hall of Fame inductee Eric Reid in 1987 when the meet was held at LSU's Bernie Moore Track Stadium.
Nugent's victory also helped extend an impressive streak for the Tigers as they have won at least one event title at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in 14-straight seasons dating back to the 1998 campaign, and in 23 of the 24 seasons dating back to Reid's victory in the 110-meter hurdles in 1987.
Nugent also earned All-America honors as a member of LSU's fourth place 4x100-meter relay team as he teamed with junior Horatio Williams, junior Keyth Talley and senior Gabriel Mvumvure to clock 39.20 in this year's national final to finish behind Florida State (38.77), Texas A&M (38.91) and Illinois (38.96).
"Andrew and I, we seem to butt heads every time we see each other," Nugent said. "Sometimes I beat him and sometimes he beats me. We were talking about that earlier. That's just how we are. We're good rivals and we're good friends. Anytime I see any of these hurdlers, we're always talking. This group always gets to push me to my limit. I'm really looking forward to future competitions with them.
"I knew if I was going to try and race these guys, I was going to lose it. You have to really stay focused in the hurdles and not get out of your rhythm. I just wanted to pick my knees up and clear the hurdles."
Horatio Williams also took home the NCAA Outdoor bronze medal in the 200-meter dash with his windy 20.41 in Saturday's final. He edged Florida State's Brandon Byram for third place as each finished with a time of 20.41. Williams (20.406) took third over Byram (20.407) by one one-thousandth of a second.
Florida State sprint star Maurice Mitchell broke the 20-second barrier to take the title with his wind-aided 19.99, while Arkansas' Marek Niit finished just of Williams in second place with a time of 20.38.
Williams has emerged as one of the nation's leading 200-meter runners during his junior season as he was also named an All-American with his fourth-place finish at the NCAA Indoor Championships in March.
Neither team race was decided until the running of the 4x400-meter relay, which provided for high drama for CBS's live broadcast of Saturday's conclusion to this year's NCAA Championships.
Competing in the final event of the week for the Tigers were junior Robert Simmons, junior Ade Alleyne-Forte, sophomore Caleb Williams and junior Riker Hylton as they eyed a national title of their own in the final race of the 2011 collegiate season. The Tigers lined up in the event with a seasonal best at 3 minutes, 2.23 seconds recorded in a third-place finish at the Texas Relays on April 9.
The quartet went out with a bang in their final race of the 2011 campaign as it finished in second to Texas A&M (3:00.62) with a new seasonal best of and the second-fastest time in team history at 3:01.07.
After Simmons led off with a split of 46.46 seconds on the opening leg, Alleyne-Forte split 45.21 with the second leg before handing off to Caleb Williams on the second exchange. Williams split one of the fastest legs in program history at 44.53, before giving way to Hylton on the anchor within striking distance of the Aggies. Hylton then anchored in 44.88 as the Tigers finished in second place in the event.
The only 4x400-meter relay team to run faster in the history of the LSU Track & Field program was from the NCAA championship team of Reggie Dardar, Kelly Willie, Bennie Brazell and Xavier Carter, that set the current collegiate record of 2:59.59 at the 2005 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Texas A&M clinched the team title with the win as the Aggies finished the meet with 55 points. In second place was Florida State with 54 points as the Seminoles did not have a team in the 4x400-meter relay final on Saturday. Florida only managed sixth in the relay to take third place in the standings with 53 points.
The women's team race also came down to a dramatic finish in the 4x400-meter relay as LSU held onto a slim lead in the clubhouse with 43.5 points following their appearance in the 200-meter final.
After entering the mile relay tied at 39 points apiece, Texas A&M edged Oregon in the final standings for the team title as the Aggies won the event championship with a time of 3:26.31 and the Ducks followed in third place in the race with a time of 3:28.18. The Lady Tigers did not qualify for the 4x400 relay final.
"I knew it was going to be a problem for us when we didn't make the (4x400) final," Shaver said. "We've got to be in that relay at the end to have a chance to win the meet with the kind of team like we have. That was a key for us today. But we certainly made the most of the chances we had this afternoon.
"I thought the first three legs really set it up for Kim to win it on the anchor in the sprint relay. That was a great team performance by those four women. She came back and really ran a special race in the 200. She is running with a lot of confidence right now and believes that she can win every race she runs."