Track & Field Wins Six Events in SEC Finale

Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake won three gold medals on Saturday afternoon!
Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake won three gold medals on Saturday afternoon!
Bryan Wayne
Will Stafford (@WillStaffordLSU)
Will Stafford (@WillStaffordLSU)
Associate SID

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake became the first LSU sprinter in eight years to win three SEC gold medals and the Tigers smashed two meet records in the relay events to highlight six event wins for the LSU Track & Field teams on Saturday in a furious finale at the 2016 SEC Outdoor Championships held at Sam Bailey Stadium.

The Lady Tigers added an SEC relay title of their own with a win in the women’s 4x100-meter relay, and junior Jordan Moore completed his season sweep of SEC titles in the sprint hurdles in one of the most impressive final days for the program at the SEC Championships as the second-winningest team in the meet.

LSU’s six SEC Outdoor event titles were second only to the seven gold medalists between the Arkansas men and women over three days of competition at Alabama’s Sam Bailey Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

Mitchell-Blake enjoyed one of the most impressive individual performances ever seen by an LSU athlete at the SEC Outdoor Championships as he not only anchored the team to a meet-record time of 38.33 seconds in the men’s 4x100-meter relay, but he also came back to win the sprint double with a time of 10.16 in the 100 meters and eye-popping 19.95 in the 200 meters.

That performance earned Mitchell-Blake the SEC Commissioners Trophy as the leading men’s point scorer for the championship with 22.5 points to his credit on the final day of the meet. He became the first Tiger since the great Richard Thompson in 2008 to win three SEC Outdoor gold medals as Thompson also swept 100-meter and 200-meter titles along with winning the 4x100-meter relay during his senior season.

The Tigers set a second SEC Championships meet record in the final event of the meet when junior LaMar Bruton, junior Michael Cherry, senior Cyril Grayson and senior Fitzroy Dunkley wrote their names in the history books with a winning run of 3 minutes, 0.48 seconds in the championship finale.

LSU’s teams brought even more hardware home from the SEC Outdoor Championships as they have now combined for 424 event wins all-time, including 286 wins by the Tigers and 138 wins by the Lady Tigers.

They started a brand new streak with at least one SEC Outdoor event championship in each of the last two seasons after winning one or more titles at the SEC Outdoor Track & Field Championships for 32-straight years from 1982-2013. Thirteen different LSU athletes were crowned SEC Champions during this year’s meet, while 16 athletes earned a total of 23 All-SEC honors in the competition.

The Tigers placed fourth in the final men’s team standings with 86 points scored for the meet, while the Lady Tigers added a fifth-place women’s team finish with 75 points scored during the competition. Sweeping the SEC Outdoor team titles was the University of Arkansas with 121 points to reclaim the men’s title last won in 2013 and 126.75 points to defend their women’s crown.

“I’m just so proud of our athletes and the way they just got after it today,” said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “The SEC Championship is one of the most competitive track meets you will find outside of meets like the NCAA Championships and the Olympic Games, and that really showed again in our time here this weekend. We’ve had a great meet, and now we’re ready to take the next step as we go to Jacksonville.”

The Tigers set a record-setting pace right out of the gate in Saturday’s finale as they smashed the SEC Outdoor Championship meet record by nearly two tenths of a second to win the men’s 4x100-meter relay.

Already the NCAA leaders in the sprint relay as the only collegiate team this year to break 39 seconds prior to the championship, the Tigers cemented their status as NCAA-title favorites with a runaway victory in 38.33 seconds to break the 2-year-old SEC meet record of 38.50 set by Texas A&M in 2014. Arkansas finished runner-up in 38.96 for the silver medal, while Alabama followed with the bronze in 39.04.

Mitchell-Blake was well in the lead when he took the stick at the last exchange as he anchored a team also featuring freshman Jaron Flournoy, junior Renard Howell and junior Tremayne Acy to the third-fastest time in school history and the eighth-fastest time in collegiate history. They won LSU’s ninth SEC Outdoor title all-time in the men’s 4x100-meter relay with their first  win since 2013.

Not only that, but the Tigers snapped Texas A&M’s streak of nine-straight conference titles in the event as the Aggies won six-straight Big 12 titles from 2007-12 before joining the SEC prior to the 2013 season.

That was just the start for Mitchell-Blake as he added a second SEC title on the day in the final of the men’s 100-meter dash when he sprinted to the finish line in 10.16 (+1.0) to be crowned champion sprinter ahead of Tennessee’s Christian Coleman in second place at 10.19. Missouri’s Markesh Woodson rounded out the medalists with a time of 10.20 for third place.

It marked the seventh time in meet history for an LSU Tiger to be crowned the SEC Champion in the men’s 100 meters as Mitchell-Blake became the first to do so since former NCAA Champion Trindon Holliday claimed it in 2009. The Tigers scored 13 points in the event as Acy followed in sixth place with a seasonal-best time of 10.29.

But Mitchell-Blake saved his most impressive performance for his fifth and final race of the weekend last when he became one of the fastest 200-meter sprinters in the history of NCAA track and field, taking control in the turn and powering through the finish line with a personal best of 19.95 (+0.4) for the victory. His time moved him to No. 2 in school history and tied for the No. 7 spot on the all-time collegiate list.

The Tigers racked up 20 points in the event as Howell followed Mitchell-Blake across the finish line with a wind-legal personal best of 20.15 to score the silver medal and his second All-SEC honor of the day, while fellow junior Tinashe Mutanga placed seventh with a time of 20.60 for two points. Howell’s 20.15 is second only to Mitchell-Blake’s 19.95 in the NCAA rankings this year and has him No. 4 on LSU’s all-time outdoor list.

“Unbelievable. I didn’t believe it,” Mitchell-Blake said when he saw his 200-meter time appear on the scoreboard. “You know, sometimes the clock changes and it might go from 19.95 to 20 something. When I saw that it stuck and I looked immediately at the wind gauge, I had no choice but to celebrate. Everything after the race was just all emotion. Not many guys go 19 (seconds), you know. It’s nice to know you’re in a that category like that. The work’s not done. We’ve still got great things ahead.

“I’ve been really focused throughout the season, and I definitely feel like my work is paying off right now. We have incredible coaches and a great support staff here, so you have everything you need to be successful. I’m just trying to reap the rewards, and hopefully continue that into the postseason.”

The Tigers set their second meet record of the day in the men’s 4x400-meter relay when Bruton, Cherry, Grayson and Dunkley combined for the third-fastest relay in school history at 3:00.48 to take down the reigning SEC Outdoor Champions from Florida, which placed second in 3:03.36. Texas A&M was third with a time of 3:03.50.

LSU led from the gun thanks to a strong 45.89-second carry on the opening leg by Bruton before Cherry extended their lead with a 44.28-second split on the second leg. Grayson and Dunkley were timed with matching 45.16-second splits over the final two legs for their second-fastest time of the season, trailing only their NCAA-leading time of 3:00.38 from the LSU Alumni Gold on April 23.

Like the sprint relay, the Tigers broke an SEC relay record previously held by Texas A&M when the Aggies ran 3:01.19 in their second ever appearance at the SEC Outdoor Championships during the 2014 season.

Cherry and Dunkley both prepped for the mile relay with medal-winning finishes in the men’s 400-meter final earlier in the day as Cherry ran 45.22 to win the silver medal and Dunkley clocked a new personal-best time of 45.34 to win the bronze medal. Dunkley cracked LSU’s all-time Top 10 performance list in the event for the first time as the No. 9-ranked 400-meter sprinter to ever run the event outdoors.

Moore had already been crowned an SEC Indoor Champion in the 60-meter hurdles this season, but added the SEC Outdoor crown in the 110 hurdles to his resume with a narrow victory in Saturday’s final. Moore used his strength to power through the finish line with a seasonal best of 13.53 (+1.2) as he edged South Carolina’s Dondre Echols (13.54) for the SEC title.

“I feel like it’s really one of my first races of the season. I haven’t really competed all that much this outdoor season,” Moore said. “Feeling the way I did today, I feel like we’re going to drop significantly in the next few weeks with training and doing the things I need to do on and off the track. I’m happy with the win today. A win is a win, but I still have a lot of work to do to get to where I want to be.”

The Lady Tigers nearly set an SEC record of their own in winning their 19th SEC title all-time in the women’s 4x100-meter relay as sophomore Mikiah Brisco, freshman Kortnei Johnson, junior Jada Martin and sophomore Rushell Harvey teamed to run the NCAA’s No. 2-ranked time this season at 42.77 to beat Texas A&M (42.94) to the finish line.

They finished just a split-second off of Oregon’s national-leading time of 42.68 this season while winning LSU’s 19th SEC title in the event all-time and first since claiming back-to-back wins in 2011 and 2012.

Johnson and Martin were two of the Lady Tigers’ big point scorers on the day as they also turned in All-SEC performances in their individual finals as Johnson sprinted to a wind-legal PR of 11.29 (-0.2) to win silver in the 100 meters and Martin raced to a big personal best of her own at 22.60 (-1.3) to secure bronze in the 200 meters. Martin’s 22.60 personal best in the 200-meter final event moved her into LSU’s all-time Top 10 list in the event as the No. 10-ranked performer to ever line up in the event outdoors.

Johnson followed Martin across the finish line in the 200 meters with a time of 22.82 for fourth place, while Martin added four points with a fifth-place finish in the 100 meters with her time of 11.40 in the final. The 100 meters featured four Lady Tigers as Harvey placed sixth in 11.41 and Brisco rounded out the scorers in eighth place with her time of 11.47.

Like many of her teammates, Brisco lined up in two finals during Saturday’s competition as she scored five more points with a fourth-place finish in the women’s 100-meter hurdles with a time of 13.11 (+0.7).

Three Lady Tigers featured among the nine finalists in the 400-meter hurdles with senior Chanice Chase earning her best career SEC finish of second place with a time of 56.17, trailing only Texas A&M’s Shamier Little in the standings as the Aggie standout nearly set a meet record with a winning time of 54.72. Junior Ka’Lynn Jupiter scored a fifth-place finish in 57.66, followed by sophomore Kymber Payne in ninth place at 58.58.

Chase later ran the third leg on the Lady Tigers’ 4x400-meter relay team that placed fifth in the final women’s event of the meet with a seasonal-best time of 3:31.65. With Martin running second leg and Chase running third leg, they teamed with junior Travia Jones leading off and freshman Rachel Misher running anchor to better their previous seasonal best of 3:31.66 from earlier this spring.

Misher added a point for the team with an eighth-place finish in the 400-meter dash in her first career SEC final as she clocked a personal best of 52.98 from lane No. 1 to help the team to a fifth-place finish.

Earning her fifth career All-SEC honor in Saturday’s finale was Lady Tiger junior Morgan Schuetz, who won the SEC Outdoor bronze medal in the women’s 800 meters for the second-straight season with a run of 2:04.19 in the final. She was already crowned the SEC Indoor Champion in the event earlier this season.

Fellow junior Blair Henderson also set the pace for the Tigers in the middle distance finals as he scored six points with two sixth-place finishes, running 1:47.69 in the 800 meters after already running a time of 3:52.18 in the 1,500 meters earlier in the afternoon. They were his first two finals appearances at the SEC Outdoor Championships in his career.

Senior Shanice Hall went out as a conference scorer for the Lady Tigers for the fourth-straight time as she cleared the bar at 5-8 ¾ on her third attempt to put two points on the scoreboard with a seventh-place finish in the women’s high jump. Hall cleared 5-7 on her first attempt before settling into the scoring positions with a third-attempt clearance at 5-8 ¾. Despite going out of the competition with three misses at 5-10 ¾, Hall is set to continue her season at the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds in two weeks.

Junior Nataliyah Friar added two more points for the Lady Tigers in the day’s early field events as she jumped a series-best mark of 42-5 ½ (+4.5) on her fifth attempt to finish seventh in the women’s triple jump.

Friar snuck into the final as the ninth and final qualifier with a wind-legal best of 41-10 ¾ in the third qualifying round, and immediately moved into fifth place with her improved mark of 42-3 ¼ in the fourth round of the final. After being passed by Auburn’s Marshay Ryan (44-0w) and Georgia’s Aliyah Johnson (42-8 ¼w) in the fourth round, Friar settled into seventh overall with her windy best of 42-5 ½ in the fifth round.

Georgia’s duo of Madeline Fagan and Keturah Orji won both jump titles on the women’s side as Fagin cleared 6-0 ½ to win the high jump and Orji jumped a wind-aided 47-10 ¾ (+2.9) to win the triple jump.

Redshirt freshman Da’Quan Bellard was just inches short of adding to the Tigers’ point total in his first SEC Championship final in the men’s triple jump as he earned a ninth-place finish overall with a career-best jump at 51-1 ½ (+2.3) under all conditions. After scoring three points with a sixth-place finish in the hammer throw on Thursday, junior Johnnie Jackson place 13th in men’s discus qualifying on Saturday with a mark of 160-1.

In other field event action, junior Cameron Robichaux and freshman Chadd Burns both cleared 16-7 ¼ to finish in 10th and 11th, respectively, in the men’s pole vault. Robichaux was just shy of his PR of 16-8 in the event, while Burns smashed his previous outdoor best of 16-3 set as a senior at Baton Rouge’s Catholic High School last spring. Both fouled out with the bar resting at a height of 17-1.

Two others ran personal bests in the meet’s final stages as freshman Dajour Braxton clocked 14:26.52 for 10th place and sophomore Jenna Walker ran 18:13.82 for 39th place in the men’s and women’s 5,000 meters.

With the 2016 SEC Outdoor Track & Field Championships now in the books, LSU’s teams will turn their attention to the NCAA Championships and the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds that return to North Florida’s Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville from May 26-28. The semifinal and final rounds of the 2016 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships then follow June 8-11 at Oregon’s Hayward Field.

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