BATON ROUGE - Senior Brieanna Kennedy and sophomore Karen Henning opened up the scoring for the defending champion Lady Tigers at this year's SEC Outdoor Track & Field Championships with a pair of top-three finishes in the women's hammer throw on rainy Friday afternoon at the Bernie Moore Track Stadium.
Kennedy earned her first career All-SEC honor with a silver-medal winning second-place finish in pacing the Lady Tigers in the event. Henning scored the bronze medal with a third-place finish as she joined with Kennedy to put the Lady Tigers on the scoreboard with 14 points in the first final of the meet.
With heavy rains plaguing the competitors throughout the afternoon, Kennedy threw a series-best mark of 195-6 in the third round while scoring eight points with her first career All-SEC finish.
Henning added six points with her best career SEC finish of third place as she followed Kennedy with the mark of 193-2 she set in the second round while taking her place on the stand as the SEC Outdoor bronze medalist.
Georgia's senior All-American Nikola Lomnicka defended her SEC hammer crown in dominating fashion as it only took one throw to raise her seasonal best to 205-9 as she took an early lead in the opening round and never looked back to take the title by more than 10 feet ahead of Kennedy. Lomnicka captured a third SEC Outdoor title in as many years with wins in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
"If you let it bother you, it definitely will. We all have to throw in the same circle in the same conditions," Kennedy said of throwing in the rain on Friday afternoon. "I've never placed this high at SECs before and I'm really excited about that. I think it was big for us to come out and score that many points with the first event. We knew we had to come out and contribute to the team right away.
"We had a team meeting this morning and just let each other know that we're doing it for each other. That is our focus. We all want to defend our team title here at home."
Lauro, who entered the meet with a 2012 seasonal best of 212-2 set at the "Battle on the Bayou," recorded four throws that raised his seasonal best to 212-4 in the second round, 212-6 in the fourth round, 214-8 for the fifth round and 217-10 for the sixth and final round of Friday's competition to claim the SEC Outdoor bronze medal for the second time in three seasons as an LSU Tiger in 2010 and 2012.
Tuttle followed in fourth place in his debut at the SEC Outdoor Championships after posting his top mark of 186-3 in the fifth round of throws. Florida's Jeremy Postin took the SEC hammer title with a best effort of 223-8, while Georgia's Justin Welch followed in second place with his top mark of 218-11.
The Lady Tigers added three points in the heptathlon final as freshman Alex Gochenour scored a personal record 5,354 points to take seventh place and freshman Kaitlyn Moreau scored 4,605 points to take eighth place as each made their SEC Outdoor Championships debut with the Lady Tigers.
Gochenour, who scored a Day 1 PR with 3,252 points on Thursday, set a personal best in the long jump to kick off Friday's events as she leaped 18-5 ¾ on her third and final jump to add 738 points to her tally. She then posted a mark of 114-5 in the javelin for 569 points before wrapping up her first SEC heptathlon with a time of 2 minutes, 22.08 seconds in the 800 meters for an additional 795 points.
With that effort, Gochenour moved into the No. 10 position on LSU's all-time outdoor performance list in the event with her seven-event score of 5,354 points. She eclipsed her previous PR of 5,300 points set in a gold-medal winning performance at the 2010 USA Junior Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
A native of Missouri Valley, Iowa, Gochenour became the NCAA's No. 23-ranked heptathlete this season pending the results of other conference championships being held this weekend. She is now poised to earn a selection to the 2012 NCAA Outdoor Championships running from June 6-9 in Des Moines, Iowa.
The Lady Tigers wrapped up Friday's competition in third place in the women's team standings with their 17 points through three events, trailing only Georgia (26) and Arkansas (18) in the team race.
The Tigers scored 11 points to finish the day in sole possession of fourth place in the men's team standing as they trail the likes of Arkansas (49), Florida (23) and Georgia (21) in the chase for the team crown.
The Lady Tigers were nearly perfect in preliminary qualifying on Friday afternoon after seven of the eight athletes who stepped onto the track advanced to Sunday's championship finals.
Defending SEC and NCAA champion Kimberlyn Duncan led a quartet of Lady Tigers to advance into the final of the women's 200-meter dash as she raced to the fastest time of the day at 23.07 seconds to win the second of four prelim heats. Senior Semoy Hackett won the fourth and final prelim heat with a wind-legal time of 23.48 for the third-fastest time of the qualifying rounds, while junior Latoya McDermott (23.86w) and sophomore Takeia Pinckney (23.94w) advanced from the first heat.
Junior Charlene Lipsey has given herself the opportunity to complete the SEC sweep in the 800-meter run after winning her heat with the third-fastest time of the day at 2:06.85. The SEC Indoor champion in set to be joined in the final by freshman Samantha Levin, who finished runner-up to Lipsey in the second prelim heat with her top time of 2:07.40 for the 2012 outdoor season.
Lady Tiger senior Cassandra Tate also earned her spot in Sunday's championship finals with her efforts in the women's 400-meter hurdles as she clocked 57.95 to win the third and final prelim heat.
The Tigers featured four finalists of their own during Friday's qualifying action, led by an impressive race by junior Howard Shepard in running the third-fastest time of the day in the 800 meters. Shepard earned a second-place finish in the second prelim heat with his time of 1:48.97. Freshman Quincy Downing will be joining Shepard in the final after running 1:50.79 for a runner-up finish in the fourth and final heat.
After finishing as the SEC Indoor silver medalist in the 200-meter dash in his championship debut back in February, freshman All-SEC performer Aaron Ernest advanced to his first conference final outdoors when he crossed the finish line in 21.08 for the sixth-fastest time of the day.
In addition, senior James Thurn grabbed the ninth and final qualifying spot into the final of the men's 400 hurdles after running a personal best of 52.10 to take third place in the second qualifying heat.
"We were close to having a perfect day," said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. "I like the scoring chances we generated today. We probably picked up a few more opportunities that we weren't really counting on coming in. I can't think of anything we could have done that we didn't do. We got an extra guy in the 800 and James Thurn in the (400) hurdles. It was also great to get four women through in the 200.
"It's been a typical SEC meet so far. Some people lined up today and were ready to go no matter what the conditions were like. I'm proud of our athletes for the way they competed."
Saturday's field event action is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. CT following a brief opening ceremony, while preliminary action on the track continues at 4:30 p.m. at Bernie Moore Stadium. ESPN3.com will carry an exclusive live video stream of Saturday's events from 4:30-7:15 p.m.