Mickles: LSU track has more in store

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — It would’ve been easy for LSU coach Dennis Shaver to be disappointed about not winning the title at the Southeastern Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships on Sunday.

In watching the top-ranked Lady Tigers come within six seconds of claiming the title at the end of a productive final day, however, it wasn’t like that at all, because there was no reason to be down.

It was easier for Shaver to look past a five-point loss to No. 3 Arkansas, which had to dig deep late to win on its home track, and see there’s more in store for his team.

While one of the goals for the program going into every season is to win the SEC title, LSU’s focus is always on a bigger prize at the NCAA Championships.

So finishing second in the SEC wasn’t the end of the world for the Lady Tigers, who’ll come back to the Randal Tyson Track Center on March 8-9 as the favorites to win the NCAA indoor crown.

The Lady Tigers won six events and had two second-place performances on the final day of the meet Sunday, which bodes well for their chances in the NCAA Championships.

“This says a lot about what we might expect at the NCAA meet,” Shaver said. “There, quality means a whole lot more than quantity. So we’re looking forward to the challenge. But there’s some room for improvement.”

Part of the quality Shaver spoke of comes in the 60 and 200 meters, where Kimberlyn Duncan became the sixth woman in school history to sweep the short sprint titles at the SEC indoor, and 800, where Charlene Lipsey and Natoya Goule raced to a 1-2 finish — both eclipsing the school record that had stood since 1999.

Duncan put up the top time in the world this year in the 200 with a 22.54-second clocking and has the NCAA’s second-best time in the 60. Lipsey and Goule have the top two 800 times in the nation at 2:02.48 and 2:03.08.

Throw in the 60 hurdles, 4x400 relay, triple jump and weight throw, and the Lady Tigers have another six top-10 NCAA performances with a chance to score points at nationals.

All those events had a hand in LSU scoring 96 points on Sunday alone in getting into position to have a shot at the team title going into the final event, when Arkansas pulled it out by winning the 4x400.

“It was a lot of fun to see them raise their level of performance and compete the way they did,” Shaver said of his team.

The Tigers didn’t score as many points as the Lady Tigers, but they got a win from sophomore Aaron Ernest in the 200 with a world-leading time of 20.53 seconds, and third-place efforts from pole vaulter Andreas Duplantis and the 4x400 unit to take fifth place with 44 points. Ernest also finished sixth in the 60.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the men’s team,” Shaver said.

“We weren’t expected to score that many coming in, but we really maximized our points.”