Track & Field Strong on Day 1 at SEC Outdoors

May 12, 2016

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Personal bests from juniors Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake and Jada Martin and freshman Kortnei Johnson led six heat winners and 10 finals qualifiers in all for the LSU Track & Field teams as they took advantage of their opportunity in Thursday’s preliminary races on the track at the 2016 SEC Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

Four Tigers and six Lady Tigers advanced to Saturday’s finals to be held at the University of Alabama’s Sam Bailey Stadium while also combining for five personal bests in events including the 200 meters, 800 meters and 400-meter hurdles. One other qualifier clocked a career-best wind-aided time to headline the day’s prelims.

The Tigers are even on the scoreboard thanks to junior Johnnie Jackson, who wrapped up Thursday’s events with a sixth-place finish in the men’s hammer final to score the first three points of the meet.

Despite two lengthy weather delays and a power outage on the Alabama campus delaying the end of the first day of the meet until 12:13 a.m. CT on Friday morning, LSU’s teams gave themselves momentum ahead of another crucial day of qualifying and field event finals beginning Friday afternoon.

“We’ve set ourselves up pretty well this weekend with what we did today, so we’re happy about that,” said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “We faced some adversity with the weather like it was, especially in the field events, but I thought we came through it pretty well. Our athletes approached today with the right mindset and it showed.”

Junior Morgan Schuetz set the tone in the very first race of the championship with a comfortable victory in the first heat of the women’s 800 meters, as she took charge on the second lap and crossed the finish line in 2 minutes, 6.11 seconds for the win. Texas A&M’s Katie Willard followed Schuetz in second place in the race with a qualifying time of 2:06.92 for the final.

Schuetz, the reigning SEC Indoor Champion in the event and SEC Outdoor Bronze Medalist from a year ago, heads into Saturday’s final looking for her second career conference title as she is the SEC’s leading half-miler in 2016 with a personal best of 2:02.29. Her 2:06.11 in Thursday’s prelims was the fourth-fastest time of the day and third-fastest among the three heat winners.

The Tigers also advanced one runner into the final of the men’s 800 meters as junior Blair Henderson earned a lane at the SEC Outdoor Championships for the first time in his collegiate career. The Lake Charles native is set to run in his second SEC final this season after earning a fifth-place finish at the SEC Indoor Championships in February.

Henderson qualified on time as the third-place finisher in the second heat with a run of 1:47.86 to trail Florida’s Andres Arroyo (1:47.71) and Georgia’s Christian Harrison (1:47.86) across the line in his section.

After Schuetz and Henderson set the pace early, LSU’s sprinters turned up the heat in the 200-meter dash as five finals qualifiers included four heat winners and three athletes setting wind-legal personal bests to earn a lane in Saturday’s finale. Junior Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake qualified for the men’s final for the third time in his three appearances at the SEC Outdoor Championships while junior Jada Martin advanced to the women’s final for the second-straight season. Juniors Renard Howell and Tinashe Mutanga and freshman Kortnei Johnson advanced for the first time.

Johnson was the first to run as she stepped onto the track in the third heat of the women’s prelims and sprinted to a big personal best of 22.78 seconds (+1.9) for the win, finishing nearly a half second ahead of Aaliyah Brown from Texas A&M at 23.23 for second. Johnson smashed her previous wind-legal PR of 23.26 with the sixth-fastest time of the day and fifth-fastest among heat winners.

“I kind of expected it (the PR) with the competition we have here and the way we train and practice,” Johnson said. “There were some amazing times run today, so I’m glad that I’m in the pack and in the hunt.

“I got out very well and maintained until the end.” Johnson continued. “I’ve been tightening up about 10 meters from the finish, but I felt it today and just pushed through it. It’s a mental thing but it’s something coach (Dennis Shaver) has been preaching every day. This is the second time in a row I’ve gone under 23 (seconds), so I’m happy.”

Martin followed with a win of her own in the fifth heat as she also clocked a wind-legal PR of 22.74 (+1.5) to finish in front of Tennessee’s Kali Davis-White (22.93) in the race with the fifth-fastest time of the day.

Mitchell-Blake carried that momentum into the first heat of men’s 200-meter qualifying where he ran a “relaxing” 20.31 (+1.3) for a new wind-legal personal best in the event and the fastest time of the afternoon. The SEC Indoor Champion and NCAA leader outdoors was well in front of Texas A&M’s Elijah Morrow (20.61) in the heat and the wind-aided 20.33 (+3.4) turned in by Florida’s Arman Hall in the fourth heat. By running 20.31 in Thursday’s opener, Mitchell-Blake became the seventh-fastest 200-meter sprinter outdoors in school history.

“Sometimes track is like that, you relax and run fast,” Mitchell-Blake explained. “I knew I was out in front, so I tried to decelerate at a nice, comfortable pace. I was actually surprised with the time because I didn’t feel I exerted that much energy. I feel like I was pretty conservative today. I’ve got two days to come and could be running five races here, so I’m happy with that.”

Howell was the top timed qualifier in the men’s 200 meters as he clocked the fastest wind-aided time of his career at 20.42 (+3.4) for the third-fastest time among all qualifiers, while Mutanga followed with a win in the fifth heat with a wind-legal 20.62 (+1.3) as both advanced to their first career SEC final in their debut appearance at the SEC Outdoor Championships.

While the Tigers qualified three sprinters into the men’s 200-meter final, the Lady Tigers featured three qualifiers among the nine finalists in the women’s 400-meter hurdles to cap Thursday’s prelims.

Senior Chanice Chase was the team’s top qualifier in the 400-meter hurdles as she advanced third overall with a winning time of 56.50 in the third and final preliminary heat. Junior Ka’Lynn Jupiter followed Chase across the finish line in fourth place in the heat with a half-second PR of 57.48 to rank No. 10 on LSU’s all-time outdoor list in the event, while sophomore Kymber Payne grabbed the ninth and final qualifying spot into the final with a time of 57.49 for third place in the first prelim heat.

Lady Tiger junior Bryiana Richardson just missed earning a spot in the final of the 400 hurdles as she also raced to a big personal best of 57.85 to finish in 10th place overall. Richardson lined up in her preliminary heat with a previous seasonal best of 58.79 in the event at the Battle on the Bayou on April 9 and a previous PR of 58.61 from her freshman season.

Following the afternoon’s preliminary races on the track, sophomore Sidnie Wilder led off the day’s field events with a personal-best performance in the women’s hammer throw as she unleashed a throw of 183 feet, 1 inch in the second round to top the first flight. Wilder, who eclipsed her previous best of 181-9 from earlier this season, finished one spot short of the final with 10th place overall.

But it was Jackson who scored the first points of the meet with a dramatic finish in the men’s hammer throw final as he threw 215-11 on his final throw to earn sixth place in the wee hours of Friday morning.

Jackson threw 206-1 on his second attempt in the second flight to take ninth place into the final, and remained in that position with throws of 202-0 in the fourth round and 197-9 in the fifth round of throws. He moved up three spots into sixth place in the final standings thanks to that throw of 215-11 in the last round of the final to match his second-longest throw of the 2016 season.

The former junior All-American scored three points in his debut appearance for the Tigers at the SEC Outdoor Championships as he followed the likes of Florida’s SEC Champion Anders Eriksson (228-5), Georgia’s silver medalist Alex Poursanidis (225-4), Ole Miss’ bronze medalist Dempsey McGuigan (224-11), Alabama’s Elias Hakansson (224-7) and Georgia’s Denzel Comenentia (223-11) in the final hammer standings.

Seniors Patrick Geers and David Collins came up short of the final themselves as Geers threw 205-1 in the first round for 11th place and Collins followed at 201-4 in the third round for 12th place in the qualifying round.

LSU’s teams will pick up where they left off on Friday afternoon with the first field event finals of the day at 2 p.m. CT followed by the day’s first preliminary races on the track at 6:30 p.m. Fans can also watch the Tigers and Lady Tigers in action as the SEC Network+ will stream live coverage of the meet beginning at 6:30 p.m. at and using the WatchESPN app on all smartphone and tablet devices.

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