On the way to becoming a national power over the past 21/2 decades, the LSU women’s track and field program has been known for its prowess in the sprints, hurdles, relays, jumps, and to some degree, the middle distances.
The throws? Not really.
While the Lady Tigers have won six shot put titles at the Southeastern Conference Indoor Championships since 1986, they’ve never won the 20-pound weight throw. Nor have they won its outdoor equivalent — the hammer.
Lady Tigers junior Denise Hinton hopes to change that Sunday.
One year after a disappointing performance at the indoor meet, Hinton is at the top of the league rankings going into the SEC Championships, which happen Friday through Sunday in Fayetteville, Ark.
Unlike last year, Hinton wants to take the next step and win an SEC title after bettering her own school record while topping the 70-foot mark for the first time last week in the LSU Twilight Meet.
“I want to score some points to help the team, but I want to win this meet,” a determined Hinton said Wednesday. “If I won this one, it would be OK if I never win another meet in my life.”
That’s how badly Hinton, who threw 70 feet, 91/4 inches last week, wants to erase the memories of last year.
She went to the SEC meet a week after a 16-inch school-record, but struggled and threw nearly 10 feet less to finish ninth. A couple of weeks later, she finished 16th at the NCAA Championships.
The lengthy throw last week has pushed Hinton to fourth in the national rankings and puts her more than five feet ahead of Florida’s Jayla Bostic, who has a season’s-best of 65-4, on the SEC list.
Hinton and teammate Karen Henning, whose best of 61-101/2 this season is also a PR and ranks third on LSU’s all-time list, are more concerned about the team score.
But there’s nothing wrong in trying to make history.
Oddly enough, Hinton’s school-record throw last week came on what she said was a bad day. She struggled early, but then unleashed the big throw on her final attempt after a pep talk from Tigers thrower Rodney Brown.
“The goal was to break 70 feet and Rodney was yelling at me that (the earlier throws) wasn’t me,” Hinton said. “He told me to get myself right and go after a 70-footer. I did and it felt amazing, so I’m ready for the SECs.”
What’s better is that she feels right. Hinton said she felt like there was a lot of pressure on her last year, but with the help of a sports psychologist has learned to relax more and has become more confident in the process.
“Basically, I needed to relax and figure out what the problem was,” she said. “It wasn’t my technique, so we felt like it was confidence and nerves. I’m not as nervous any more and I feel more confident.”
“Confidence is everything in an event like this,” LSU throws coach Derek Yush said. “Denise has brought a different confidence this year, and she’s more secure and more mature than ever.
“I think she’s turned the corner, but the proof is going to be this weekend. From everything I’ve seen, last year was a confidence-builder for her.”
Henning is also gaining confidence in the event even though she has to follow in the huge footsteps of her brother, Walter Henning.
The most decorated thrower in LSU history, Walter Henning claimed six SEC titles in the 35-pound weight and hammer (three each) and three NCAA titles — two in the weight throw, one in the hammer — from 2009 to 2011 while earning six All-America certificates.
In the same meet Hinton cracked the 70-foot barrier, Karen Henning had a PR of more than a foot as her 61-101/2 easily topped the 60-10 she posted last year and went to third place on LSU’s all-time list.
“I’ve definitely been way more consistent this year because I was all around my PR from last year until last week,” Henning said. “I expected this a little earlier this year because I had a good fall (training) and was coming in with high expectations.”
A knee injury in the fall of 2011 hampered Henning somewhat last season, but a seventh-place finish in the weight throw indoors was followed by a third-place effort in the hammer at the SEC outdoor meet.
Now that she’s healthy again, her technique and speed have helped offset a decided size advantage for the 5-foot-4, 135-pound former gymnast and cheerleader.
“I just kind of followed in Walter’s footsteps and saw where he ended up,” Henning, a junior, said. “I’m happy that I did and I think he is, too.”
Obviously, so are the LSU coaches.
“Karen has always shown a great deal of consistency, and I think this year she’s exceeding her performances,” head coach Dennis Shaver said. “I think it’s been a natural progression she’s made from year to year.”
Yush added: “Karen’s a great competitor and she always has been,” said Yush. “She’s a heck of a technician, which helps make up for her lack of size. She has great talent, skill and speed. Her technique kind of sets her apart and helps her beat people who are physically larger than she is.”