May 26, 2016
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – All-American javelin thrower Rebekah Wales became the first LSU athlete at this year’s NCAA East Preliminary Rounds to earn her seat on the plane to Eugene, Oregon, for the NCAA semifinals with a qualifying throw of 161 feet, 6 inches in Thursday’s opener at Hodges Stadium at the University of North Florida.
Wales’ opening throw of 161-6 in the first round of the third flight was good for sixth place among the 48 competitors in the women’s javelin to highlight an opening day of competition during which the Tigers and Lady Tigers combined for seven heat winners among 17 quarterfinalists on the track in the first round of qualifying.
Wales followed her first throw of the day with a mark of 154-5 in the second round before passing her third and final attempt when a top-12 qualifying position to the semifinals was secured.
The top-12 finishers in each open and relay event at the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds in Jacksonville this weekend will advance to the national semifinals in their respective events for the 2016 NCAA Division I Track & Field Championships being held at Oregon’s Hayward Field in Eugene in two weeks.
Wales is set to compete in the NCAA semifinals of the women’s javelin at Hayward Field for the third-straight season after also qualifying as a freshman in 2014 and as a sophomore in 2015. The 2015 SEC Champion and 2016 SEC Bronze Medalist earned All-America honors for the first time a year ago when she placed fourth nationally in the NCAA final.
A West Monroe native, Wales has raised her level of performance even higher as a junior this spring after throwing a big personal best of 180-7 to win All-SEC honors at the SEC Championships two weeks ago.
“I was just trying to make it through. Especially in the throws, it doesn’t matter how you get in. If you’re 12th, you’re in,” Wales said of her qualification. “(The wind) was bad, really bad. It was a cross headwind, actually. If you threw it straight up, it was coming right back down. So you really had to line-drive it into the wind.
“A lot of people who should have made it didn’t make it through,” Wales continued. “It was killing people’s throws. So I’m definitely happy to make it through again this year. I really can’t complain.”
Lady Tiger senior Chanice Chase set a quick pace for LSU’s athletes in the first round of qualifying on the track when she ran a big personal best of 55.47 seconds in the 400-meter hurdles to win the second heat and set the fastest time of the day by nearly a second and a half. Chase became the NCAA’s No. 6-ranked hurdler in the event this season while smashing her previous best of 55.76 by nearly three tenths of a second.
The Lady Tigers actually featured the two fastest qualifiers into the quarterfinals of the women’s 400 hurdles as sophomore teammate Kymber Payne followed in second place in the second heat with the No. 2 time of the day at 56.86. Payne will line up in the national quarterfinals for the second-straight season after placing 14th overall and just missing a spot in the semifinals last spring.
All four Lady Tigers lining up in the event earned a spot in Friday’s quarterfinals as junior Ka’Lynn Jupiter placed third in the fifth heat with a time of 57.97 and junior Bryiana Richardson qualified on time at 58.22.
The Lady Tigers added four more quarterfinalists in their next event in the 100-meter dash as freshman Kortnei Johnson led the way by matching her wind-legal PR in the event. Johnson’s run of 11.29 (+1.2) finished in top spot in the fifth heat with the second-fastest time of the first round. She lead a 1-2 finish for LSU in the heat as junior Rushell Harvey followed in second with the eighth-fastest time of the day at 11.43.
Sophomores Mikiah Brisco and Aleia Hobbs matched one another with times of 11.34 to advance to the national quarterfinals as Hobbs finished runner-up in the first heat and Brisco won the fourth heat with the third-fastest and fourth-fastest times of the day, respectively. Both are into the quarterfinal round for the second-straight season.
The Tigers were a perfect 3-for-3 in first-round qualifying in the men’s 100-meter dash with juniors Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, Tremayne Acy and Tinashe Mutanga all earning a lane in Friday’s quarterfinals. Winning the first heat in 10.29 (-0.7) was Mitchell-Blake as the SEC treble winner cruised to the third-fastest time for the round. Acy followed his teammate in third in the first heat with a time of 10.43, while Mutanga also advanced automatically as the runner-up in the fifth heat with a time of 10.42 (+0.1).
They carried their momentum into 400-meter qualifying where Michael Cherry (46.00) and Fitzroy Dunkley (46.08) were both heat winners and LaMar Bruton (46.47) advanced to the national quarterfinals on time.
Junior Travia Jones was the lone Lady Tiger lining up in Thursday’s preliminary round of the women’s 400 meters, and she ran the fastest race of her life in 53.08 to advance on time in fifth place in the second section. It earned her the fifth of six timed qualifying spots into the quarterfinal round at the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds for the first time in her career.
All-American hopeful Morgan Schuetz was LSU’s seventh heat winner on the opening day of the meet when she raced to an easy victory in the sixth and final heat of the women’s 800 meters by nearly one full second with a run of 2 minutes, 5.32 seconds. Fellow junior Blair Henderson was also an automatic qualifier in the men’s 800 meters as his time of 1:48.84 was good for a third-place finish in the fifth heat.
“We’ve done about all we can do today from a qualifying standpoint to set up the rest of the weekend for our teams,” said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “When you have 17 qualifiers get through to the next round it really says a lot about the mindset of our athletes coming here to compete. It’s a great day today from that standpoint, but we need to do even better tomorrow to keep it going.”
The throws took center stage in the day’s early events as three Tigers stepped into the hammer cage for the last time during the 2016 season. Junior Johnnie Jackson was LSU’s top performer in the event as his toss of 211-3 in the second round of the second flight earned him a 19th-place finish in the event, while senior Patrick Geers followed in 25th place at 205-5 and senior David Collins finished in 36th place at 197-5. Joining Wales on the javelin runway was senior Annie Simoneaux, who ended her collegiate career throwing 126-9 for 43rd place.
In other field-event action, All-American long jumper Nataliyah Friar placed 23rd overall in Thursday’s qualifying in the event with her top jump of the day at 19-8 while junior Cameron Robichaux was the top Tiger in the men’s pole vault as he cleared the bar at 15-11 on his first attempt and 16-4 ¾ on his third attempt to finish in 30th place in the competition.
Wrapping up Thursday’s qualifying on the track was Tiger sophomore Jack Wilkes, who was finished just short of his personal-best time in the 800 meters with a time of 1:49.83 for 31st place in the men’s prelims.
Action continues Friday at the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds with the men’s javelin throw getting LSU’s teams underway at 11 a.m. CT. Events on the track will follow at 4 p.m. CT with the first round of qualifying in the sprint hurdles, while quarterfinal races on the track will follow throughout the evening with the last event scheduled to run at 8:30 p.m. CT at Hodges Stadium.