Tigers Win Relay Title to Cap NCAA Indoors
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The LSU Tigers wrapped up their weekend at the 2016 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships by being crowned this year’s NCAA Indoor Champions in the 4x400-meter relay and locking up a fourth-place team finish in the men’s race with 28 points scored during Saturday’s action at the Birmingham Crossplex.
Lining up with their team of senior Cyril Grayson, junior LaMar Bruton, junior Michael Cherry and senior Fitzroy Dunkley, the Tigers were dominant in winning their fifth NCAA Indoor title all-time in the men’s mile relay with the third-fastest time indoors in school history at 3 minutes, 4.28 seconds in the final.
Their victory in the final event of the meet extended LSU’s impressive streak to seven-straight seasons of winning at least one NCAA Indoor event title between the men’s and women’s teams since 2010.
It was the second All-American performance of the day for two members of LSU’s national champion relay team as Cherry was crowned the NCAA Indoor Bronze Medalist and Dunkley earned a fifth-place finish in the men’s 400-meter final. Junior Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake turned in a third medal-winning performance for the Tigers as the NCAA Indoor Silver Medalist in the men’s 200-meter dash.
Sophomore All-Americans Mikiah Brisco and Daeshon Gordon powered the Lady Tigers to a tie for 14th place in the final women’s team standings as they accounted for all of the team’s 15 points on the meet’s final day on Saturday. Gordon edged Brisco at the line in a 4-5 finish in the women’s 60-meter hurdles, while Brisco was also the NCAA Indoor Bronze Medalist in the women’s 60-meter dash.
The Oregon Ducks swept men’s and women’s team titles on the final day of competition at the Birmingham Crossplex with winning scores of 62 points in the final men’s race and 53 points in the final women’s race.
Joining LSU and Oregon on the team trophy podium in the final men’s team standings were Arkansas in second place with 39 points and Tennessee in third place with 34 points for the meet. Following the Ducks for the women’s team trophies were defending NCAA Indoor Champion Arkansas in second place with 50 points, Georgia in third place with 44 points and Texas in fourth place with 44 points.
“I’m so proud of both our teams for the way they finished off the championship here today. We really scrapped for every point we put on the board today,” said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “I’m especially proud of the men for battling out there all the way to the very end to win themselves a trophy. They knew the situation going into the relay, and really earned it in the end.”
The Tigers stepped onto the track for the final heat of the final event of the meet in sixth place with 18 points, but remained mathematically alive for a fourth-place trophy finish as they trailed Texas by just two points. They even lined up in the same heat of the 4x400-meter relay as the Longhorns needing to erase that two-point deficit to earn their best team finish since 2011.
After Grayson led off with a 46.93-second split to put the Tigers in second place at the first exchange, Bruton gave the team a lead it would not relinquish with a 46.26 carry on the second leg to edge Florida, Baylor and Texas at the second exchange. Cherry extended LSU’s advantage with a 45.49 split on the third leg before Dunkley brought home the victory in 45.61 with the third-fastest time in school history at 3:04.28.
The Tigers finished nearly a full second ahead of the Gators (3:05.17) to win their fifth NCAA Indoor title in program history, while Baylor was third in 3:05.23 and Texas followed in fourth at 3:05.26 in the event.
With their effort, the Tigers overhauled Texas (25) and Washington (24) for the final team standings to win the fourth-place trophy and earn their best team finish since four-straight fourth-place finishes from 2008-11. It was also their second win in the event at the NCAA Indoor meet in three seasons as they also won the relay in 2001, 2003, 2006 and 2014.
“It’s a surreal feeling. I was sitting in the stands even before we ran, and I thought about my very first collegiate race right here on this track a few years back,” Grayson said following the meet. “My last indoor race as a senior was here, so it’s just come full circle for me. Just winning with these guys is special. We put in the work every day for meets like this, and we deserve (to win).
“We always feel like we’re a much better outdoor team than we are indoor. To finish fourth with seven guys is a great accomplishment. We’re just so ready for outdoors, especially with a few guys coming back.”
While Cherry and Dunkley both wrapped up the championship leading the Tigers to the NCAA Indoor title in the 4x400-meter relay, they warmed up earlier in the day by lining up against one another in the second race of the two-section final of the men’s 400-meter dash and teamed to score the Tigers’ first 10 points of the weekend.
In what proved to be a tightly-contested heat along with Florida’s duo of Arman Hall and Najee Glass, it was Cherry who edged the field at the 200-meter mark with his 21.45-second opening lap and outlasted his rivals, crossing the finish line in 46.34 to win the heat ahead of Hall (46.44) in second, Dunkley (46.46) in third and Glass (46.60) in fourth in the heat.
Cherry’s 46.34 earned him the title of NCAA Indoor Bronze Medalist after taking third place overall in his first career national final as he trailed the top two finishers from the first section in Texas’ Zack Bilderback (46.03) and Tennessee’s Nathan Strother (46.28) on the medal podium. He matched his bronze-medal-winning third-place finish from the SEC Indoor Championships just two weeks ago.
Dunkley added four more points toward the Tigers’ team total with his fifth-place finish between the two heats as he also took his mark and raced in his first career NCAA final in the 400-meter dash.
Mitchell-Blake enjoyed a medal-winning performance of his own after qualifying for his first career NCAA final in the 200-meter dash, scoring the silver medal with a blistering run of 20.63 in the second of two heats for the final. After watching Arkansas sophomore Kenzo Cotton win the first heat in 20.74, Tennessee’s Christian Coleman and Mitchell-Blake responded with a 1-2 finish in the second heat as Coleman took the title with a time of 20.55 from lane No. 5 and Mitchell-Blake won the silver medal in 20.63 from the outside in lane No. 6.
Mitchell-Blake’s runner-up finish in the men’s 200-meter final equaled the best finish all-time by an LSU Tiger at the NCAA Indoor Championships since Xavier Carter scored the silver medal in the 2006 season.
“I just thank God for giving me the opportunity to be here. My teammates, coaches, family have played a big part for me,” Mitchell-Blake said as he was waiting to step onto the award podium following the race. “It’s a great feeling to be among the elite in our sport. I’m disappointed with the result in the end, but I’ll take it in stride and prepare to come back stronger outdoors.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to execute your own race plan,” Mitchell-Blake continued when speaking of his own strategy in the final. “Give credit to (Christian) Coleman, he’s a great athlete and tremendously explosive as well. I knew he would get out, so I just tried my best to get out fast and be aggressive. The better man won on the day, and I’m just looking forward to coming back outdoors.”
Brisco and Gordon led the charge for the Lady Tigers on the final day of the indoor season as they converted their three scoring chances into 15 points to secure the team a tie for 14th place in the final standings.
They first stepped onto the infield straightaway at the Birmingham Crossplex in their first career NCAA finals in the 60-meter hurdles looking to put the Lady Tigers on the scoreboard for the first time in the meet. They matched one another stride-for-stride throughout the race and crossed the finish line with identical personal bests of 8.04 seconds in a 4-5 finish.
Gordon edged her teammate by just three one-thousandths of a second for fourth place with an official time of 8.037 converted to a new personal best of 8.04. Brisco followed Gordon across the finish line in fifth with a time of exactly 8.04 as they combined for nine points in the event while tying one another for the No. 6 spot on LSU’s all-time indoor performance list in the 60-meter hurdles event.
Michigan’s Cindy Ofili closed strong on the outside to take the title in 7.89 ahead of Oregon’s silver medalist Sasha Wallace in 7.91. Purdue’s Devynne Charlton also broke eight seconds at 7.99 for the bronze medal.
Brisco then captured her second All-America honor for Saturday’s finale just 20 minutes later when she returned to the starting line for her second career appearance in the NCAA’s 60-meter final. She was quick out of the blocks and sprinted to her second personal best of the day when she leaned across the finish line in 7.17 as the NCAA Bronze Medalist for her best career finish at the NCAA Championships.
Brisco, who earned her first career All-America honor in her fifth-place finish nationally as a freshman a year ago, capped the Lady Tigers’ scoring for the day with 10 points for her efforts. The 2016 SEC Women’s Indoor Runner of the Year trailed Texas’ Teahna Daniels (7.11) and Oregon’s Hannah Cunliffe (7.12) across the finish line for the bronze medal.
“Those two (Brisco and Gordon) are still relatively inexperienced compared to many of the girls they’re lining up against in a meet like this, but they’ve come a long way this season to give themselves this opportunity,” Shaver said. “We’re excited to go outdoors with this group and get after it again as we work to get back to where we know we can be at the NCAA Championships.”
The Tigers could have finished as high as third in the men’s team race if not for an unfortunate disqualification of junior Jordan Moore in the final of the men’s 60 hurdles in LSU’s first event of the day. Moore, who was the second-fastest qualifier in Friday’s preliminary round with a personal best of 7.58, was disqualified for a lane violation and impeding another runner despite placing second with a time of 7.60 in the final.
After returning home from Birmingham on Sunday afternoon, LSU’s teams will take next weekend off before opening up their 2016 outdoor season with a Spring Break trip to Coral Gables, Florida, to compete during a one-day Hurricane Twilight meet on Friday, March 25, at the University of Miami’s Cobb Stadium.