DES MOINES, Iowa — The LSU track and field teams are off and running at the 2011 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships after qualifying four individuals and two relays into NCAA finals that will run later this weekend during Wednesday’s opening day of competition at Drake Stadium.
Both of LSU’s 4x100-meter relay teams kicked off the day’s events by advancing to Saturday’s final, while the Lady Tigers added finalists in such events as the 100 meters, 800 meters and 400-meter hurdles.
“I thought our athletes really gave a great effort today,” said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “This was a great start for our teams here in Des Moines. I know we’re looking forward to getting back at it tomorrow for another day of semifinals on the track. We’ll also have our first opportunity to score points in the field events and get on the board. I know our athletes will approach like a new day and a new track meet.”
The Lady Tigers set the track on fire in the very first event of this year’s NCAA Championship semifinals with their 2011 seasonal best in the 4x100-meter relay to take the No. 1 seed into Saturday’s final.
While lining up a team of senior Kenyanna Wilson, junior Semoy Hackett, junior Rebecca Alexander and sophomore Kimberlyn Duncan, the Lady Tigers blew away the field in the second of three semifinal heats with the fastest time of the day at 42.94 seconds. LSU actually broke the 43-second barrier in the relay for the first time since running 42.85 in the national final at the 2008 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
The LSU women nipped Texas A&M’s winning time of 42.99 in the first heat to snatch the No. 1 seed for the 4x100-meter relay final that will run Saturday at 12:03 p.m. CDT.
Sophomore Charlene Lipsey continued the momentum for the Lady Tigers with a blistering run in the 800 meters to advance to her first career NCAA final. In the second of three semifinal heats, Lipsey took third place with a time of 2 minutes, 3.96 seconds to advance to the final as the fastest timed qualifier. Her time was actually faster that the winning times of 2:04.57 in the first heat and 2:04.70 in the third heat.
That performance slashed more than one second off of Lipsey’s previous personal record of 2:05.05 set at the LSU Invitational on April 2 in her 2011 outdoor season opener. She also moved into the Top 10 of the LSU all-time outdoor performance list as the No. 10-ranked 800-meter runner in program history.
Lipsey advanced to her second-straight NCAA Championships semifinal in the 800-meter run with a time of 2:05.63 run two weeks ago at the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds in Bloomington, Ind.
“I knew I had to run fast to make it to the finals. That race (in quarterfinals at the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds) definitely gave me the confidence to run this time today,” Lipsey said. “I struggled there ad still ran 2:05, so I figured if I didn’t struggle here I could run 2:03 or 2:04. You can’t slack off here or you will not make it to the final. I knew I had to run a race like I did today.”
In what might have been the most unusual women’s 100-meter semifinal in NCAA history, both the No. 1 and No. 2 performers in the country entering the championships failed to advance to the national final.
While running in the first of three women’s heats, Hackett appeared to run away from the field for an easy win and spot in the final round. But the NCAA title hopeful pulled up shy of the finish line in anticipation of the victory, only to see four other runners cross the line before finishing the race herself.
Hackett settled for fifth place in the heat and 14th-place overall with her time of 11.55 seconds, trailing the heat’s automatic qualifiers in Oklahoma’s Candyce McGrone (11.33) and Baylor’s Tiffany Townsend (11.34), as well as the non-qualifiers in USC’s Jessica Davis (11.51) and Southern Miss’ Chastity Riggien (11.52). Hackett ranked No. 2 in the NCAA entering the meet with a 2011 best of 10.98w.
Just when it appeared that the door opened for Texas A&M to take early control of the team race, the door quickly slammed shut at the start of the third semifinal when Aggie junior Jeneba Tarmoh jumped the gun by committing a false start and disqualifying herself from the national semifinals.
While Hackett entered this year’s NCAA Championships with the nation’s second-fastest performance of 2011, Tarmoh posted the No. 1-ranked performance in the NCAA with her best of 10.94w.
Two Lady Tigers emerged from the third semifinal heat as NCAA finalists after Duncan took second with a time of 11.22 and Wilson followed in third with a time of 11.37 in the race. Duncan actually crossed the finish line with the second-fastest time of the day, while Wilson advanced as the eighth and final qualifier into the final to give LSU an opportunity to score big points in Friday’s 100-meter final.
In addition, freshman Toshika Sylvester made her NCAA Championships debut Wednesday in the second semifinal heat, and she nearly set a new personal best with a time of 11.55 to finish in 15th place overall.
“It’s just unfortunate for Semoy with what happened today,” Shaver said. “She had it won through 90, but slowed up at what she thought was the finish line. When running in that particular direction, there’s a start line 10 meters short of the actual finish line that seemed to cause some of the runners some confusion. It’s just an unfortunate situation. I know Semoy will look to redeem herself in the 200 tomorrow.
“We’re still in pretty good shape in that event with two qualifying to the final. If Semoy would have made it through, Kenyanna would have been left out. We still got two good ones in the final.”
Junior Cassandra Tate wrapped up Wednesday’s semifinal qualifying for the Lady Tigers with a personal-best effort in the 400-meter hurdles as she won the third heat with a time of 55.99 that held up as the third fastest of the evening. She bettered her previous PR of 56.03 that she set in the SEC final on May 15.
In the first men’s semifinal on the track at this year’s NCAA Championships, the Tigers qualified for their first final of the meet with a fifth-place finish overall with a time of 39.01.
Running with a first-time relay of junior Barrett Nugent, freshman Rynell Parson, junior Keyth Talley and junior Riker Hylton, the Tigers finished runner-up in the second semifinal heat behind Florida’s winner of 38.49. Texas A&M set the Drake Stadium record with the top time of the day at 38.38.
Despite running a personal best in Wednesday’s semifinals, junior quartermiler Riker Hylton came up just short in his bid to advance to the men’s 400-meter dash final after finishing third place in his heat and 14th place overall with a time of 45.83. Fellow junior Horatio Williams followed with a 16th-place finish in the men’s 100-meter dash as he took fifth place in his semifinal heat with a time of 10.49 (-2.4).
The Tigers and Lady Tigers will compete in their first finals of the 2011 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Friday’s field events scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. CDT. They will continue the semifinal round on the track beginning at 5:30 p.m. on the famed blue oval at Drake Stadium.
Both the men’s and women’s 100-meter dash finals will be without the NCAA’s No. 1-ranked sprinters in the field as Florida’s defending champion Jeff Demps also failed to advance to Friday’s men’s final.
Demps, the 2010 NCAA Outdoor champion and 2011 NCAA Indoor champion, finished in third ahead of Williams in the second heat, but failed to advance on time as his 10.40 finished in 14th place overall.
The NCAA will provide a live webcast of Friday’s championship action beginning at 12:30 p.m. online at NCAA.com. LSU fans can also receive live up-to-the-minute coverage of the Tigers and Lady Tigers here in Des Moines this weekend by liking the official LSU Track & Field page on Facebook and by following @LSUTrackField on Twitter. Updates will be reported following the end of each event.