Kimberlyn Duncan leads LSU qualifiers at SEC track meet

Associated Press file photo by CHARLIE NEIBERGALL LSU track star Kimberly Duncan
Associated Press file photo by CHARLIE NEIBERGALL LSU track star Kimberly Duncan

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Not even the cold, blustery weather could slow down LSU All-America sprinter Kimberlyn Duncan on Friday night.

With the temperature hovering around 59 degrees, which felt even chillier because of a brisk north wind, Duncan took her first steps to what she hopes is a record-setting win in her signature event at the Southeastern Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

Duncan, a five-time NCAA indoor and outdoor champion at 200 meters, shot out of the starting blocks and went on to handily win her preliminary heat in 22.88 seconds to begin her bid for a third consecutive SEC outdoor victory at that distance.

It was one of the best performances on the second day of the meet for LSU even though the Lady Tigers, who are seeking a fourth team title in a row, picked up their first points earlier in the day on a 2-5 finish by Denise Hinton and Karen Henning in the hammer throw.

The Lady Tigers also got a fourth-place finish from Laura Carleton in the 10,000 meters late Friday night as she produced a school-record time of 34 minutes, 1.65 seconds. Combined with the 12 points Hinton and Henning had, LSU finished the day with 17 points.

Duncan looked like she was in a big hurry to get her sweats back on as her time was easily the fastest of the five heats and was just off her season’s-best of 22.82 seconds.

Tennessee’s Felicia Brown had the next-fastest time with a 23.24 one heat before Duncan stepped on the track, while Texas A&M’s Kamaria Brown, a Baton Rouge native, had the third-fastest time in winning her heat in 23.34.

“It wasn’t that bad because we warmed up in the indoor facility,” Duncan said of the chilly conditions. “But we sat around out here for a little bit, and it was harder to stay warm.”

With her solid start, Duncan quickly made up the stagger on the other five runners with about 110 meters to go and wasn’t challenged after entering the homestretch.

“I knew they were going to push me,” Duncan said. “So I really wanted to get out. I’ve been working on my start all week, so now I have to get the end right.”

Duncan led a group of four women and three men qualifiers for LSU in the evening session after Hinton and Henning picked up the first 12 points of the meet for the Lady Tigers.

Hinton surpassed her personal best of 195 feet, 11 inches by more than six feet on her final throw and finished second at 202-0, the third-longest in school history, while Henning was fifth at 185-5.

“I don’t know where that came from. ... It kind of came out of nowhere,” Hinton, who was in third place, said of her final throw. “I was making a couple of mistakes on my earlier throws. Coach (Derek Yush) was saying I needed to stay low and quit popping up like I was doing.

“I didn’t think about scoring more points right when it happened, but I’m so happy to help my team like that. Third place was great, but I knew I had one last chance to move up from that.”

Later, the Lady Tigers picked up four qualifiers for Sunday’s finals in a limited slate of prelims.

Natoya Goule and Charlene Lipsey, who rank 1-2 in the 800 meters on the NCAA list this spring, easily won their preliminary heats and automatically qualified for the final.

Lipsey won her heat in 2:06.16 before Goule, who is also the world leader this year, cruised to a win in 2:05.40.

Nikita Tracey also won her heat in the 400-meter hurdles at 57.70 seconds to earn a spot in the final.

On the men’s side, the Tigers’ Aaron Ernest and Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake advanced to the 200 final when they ran second in their heats with times of 20.86 and 21.06 seconds, respectively.

Also, Quincy Downing finished second in only his second 400 hurdles race in 52.77 seconds and advanced. Downing was fifth turning for home, but a late surge got him a spot in Sunday’s final.

“I didn’t run anywhere near the time I was supposed to, but I had too much energy and didn’t have any technique,” a smiling Downing said. “I just have to calm down a little and do what I’m supposed to do. I saw a couple guys breaking down coming off the last hurdle, so I had to go get them.”