BY Sheldon mickles
May 30, 2012
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The LSU track and field teams finished the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds on Saturday the way they started them two days earlier: With a big rush.
After coming out strong on the first day of the meet that served as a qualifier for the NCAA Championships to be held June 6-9 in Des Moines, Iowa, the top-ranked Lady Tigers and fourth-ranked Tigers never let up.
By late Saturday night at the University of North Florida, all they could do was add two more qualifiers to their total in the 4x400-meter relay that brought the competition to a close.
LSU did that, cruising to victory in the women’s relay in 3 minutes, 30.05 seconds and taking the men’s race as well in 3:03.20. That brought their total of qualifiers for the nationals semifinals to 33 — with 17 men and 16 women advancing.
“I’m very pleased with the number of qualifiers we had and the position they qualified in going to Des Moines,” LSU coach Dennis Shaver said. “We put ourselves in as good a position as we could in the quarterfinals going into the semis.”
While the 4x400 relays were the final events of the competition, the Tigers and Lady Tigers put an exclamation point on their performances two hours earlier.
After freshman Aaron Ernest earned a spot in the men’s 200 meters semifinals by advancing with a personal-record time of 20.54 seconds, Kimberlyn Duncan and Semoy Hackett pulled away to win their women’s quarterfinals heats.
First, Duncan wowed the crowd with a PR of 22.22 seconds, while Hackett followed that with a personal best of 22.55.
Duncan’s time was the fastest in the world this spring, topping the 22.31 posted by American Carmelita Jeter on April 14. The time also broke the low-altitude collegiate record of 22.24 seconds that Duncan ran in winning the title at the NCAA Championships last June.
While she’s been looking for a PR all season, Duncan said she didn’t think it would come Saturday in her final race of the weekend and with only a slight tailwind of 0.1 meters per second.
“I was just trying to qualify and go to the next round and help my team score points at the national meet,” Duncan said. “It just felt like a normal race.”
But it was anything but that considering she’s now just a couple of ticks off the collegiate record of 22.04 set by former LSU star Dawn Sowell back in 1989.
“She’s good, what can I say?” a smiling Shaver said of Duncan, who also had the fastest time in the 100 meters quarterfinals on Friday night and anchored the 4x100 relay team that had the fastest time on Saturday.
“She’s running with a lot of confidence right now,” he said. “I don’t think it was a great race for her, but it was still a fast time. She’s running well.”
So was the rest of his team during the three-day meet.
Hackett, who turned in a time of 23.05 seconds in the first round on Friday night, came back Saturday to shave a half-second off that mark.
“I felt good running (Friday) in the prelims,” she said, “so I thought I could get a PR today.”
With Duncan on the anchor of the 4x100, the Lady Tigers won the first race on Saturday in a time of 43.26 seconds as Takeia Pinckney, Hackett and Rebecca Alexander got the stick around to her with a safe lead.
After that, the Lady Tigers got two 100-meter hurdlers into the semifinals as Jasmin Stowers finished second in her heat with a time of 13.03 seconds and automatically advanced, while Shanekia Hall qualified on time with a PR of 13.11 seconds.
The race was a relief for Stowers, who fell midway through her quarterfinals race at this meet a year ago.
“I’m satisfied that I made it to nationals,” said Stowers. “The goal was to just make the top three at this meet and automatically qualify, so I’ll get a shot at nationals. I was a little cautious because I just wanted to make it through all the hurdles this time.”
The Lady Tigers’ other qualifiers Saturday were the 4x400 relay team of Latoya McDermott, Alexander, Cassandra Tate and Jonique Day, which had the fastest time at 3:30.05, and Brieanna Kennedy, who took the eighth of 12 spots in the hammer with a best of 198 feet, 2 inches.
The Tigers also had a big day as they earned four semifinal spots on the track and another in the field.
The 4x100 unit of Barrett Nugent, Ernest, Keyth Talley and Shermund Allsop combined to win their heat and record the fourth-fastest time overall at 39.61 seconds before Nugent had the fourth-fastest time in the 110-meter hurdles in 13.50 seconds.
Ernest, who also advanced in the 100 quarterfinals on Friday night, made it in the 200 as well with the eighth-fastest time of the day and fellow freshman Andreas Duplantis advanced in the pole vault at 17-51/2.
That set the stage for the team of Quincy Downing, Robert Simmons, Ade Alleyne-Forte and Riker Hylton to win the 4x400 relay and move on after all four advanced to the semifinals in the open 400 on Friday.
“When you look at it, I don’t know what else we could have done this weekend,” Shaver said. “We were really focused on what we were doing. To get (to Des Moines) we had to focus, and they all did.”