Track & Field Adds Four Titles at Penn Finale

by Will Stafford (@WillStaffordLSU)
Track & Field Adds Four Titles at Penn Finale

PHILADELPHIA – Saturday’s championship finale in the 117th running of the Penn Relays Carnival proved to be a banner day for the LSU track and field program as the Tigers swept sprint relay titles in the 4×100-meter and 4×200-meter relays to go along with individual event wins by senior Gabriel Mvumvure and freshman Jasmin Stowers on an exciting afternoon at Franklin Field.

The Tigers and Lady Tigers put their talent on display before the seventh-largest crowd in carnival history as 48,531 fans packed the Franklin Field grandstands to celebrate an afternoon of world-class competition highlighted by one of the sport’s unique spectacles with the running of the “USA vs. The World” relays.

Following LSU’s victories in the two sprint relays, Mvumvure won the 100-meter dash championship and Stowers took home the 100-meter hurdles crown in dominating fashion to highlight Saturday’s action.

In winning four event championships Saturday afternoon, the Tigers and Lady Tigers combined for seven wins in three days of competition to push their all-time total to 63 Championship of America relay crowns and 62 individual titles in the championship division at the Penn Relays.

Other event winners on the weekend include the Lady Tigers in the sprint medley relay, and senior Walter Henning in the men’s hammer throw and senior Melissa Ogbourne in the women’s triple jump.

“It’s not often that you can come here to the Penn Relays late in the season and get better in competing as a team. That’s exactly what we did here this weekend,” said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “I am proud of the way our athletes approached this competition today. You always want to improve as a team, but for us to improve in the way we compete as a team is what impressed me the most today.”

The LSU 4×100 Relay Team
Photo by Bryan Wayne

In LSU’s first event on the track during Saturday’s carnival finale, the Tigers proved to be the class of the field in the Championship of America final in the men’s 4×100-meter relay as they dominated a field with six of the NCAA’s Top 10 sprint relay teams competing in an event worthy of a national final.

Junior Keyth Talley fired out of the blocks and took control of the race early on before passing the stick to fellow junior Horatio Williams on the backstretch. Senior Tristan Walker then rounded the turn with LSU holding a comfortable lead before handing off to Mvumvure on the anchor leg.

Mvumvure crossed the finish line at least 15 meters clear of his nearest competitor, as the Tigers recorded the second-fastest time in Penn Relays history at 38.77 seconds to take the title.

Defending NCAA champion and No. 4-ranked Florida finished well back in second place with the time of 40.00, while No. 7-ranked TCU took home the bronze with a time of 40.15. Other ranked teams racing for the Championship of America relay crown included No. 9-ranked Mississippi State (40.38), No. 1-ranked Texas A&M (44.36) and No. 6-ranked Texas (disqualified).

LSU took home its first Penn Relays title in the men’s 4×100-meter relay since 2008, while it tied TCU at nine Championship of America victories all-time for the most in meet history.

But the Tigers would not stop with their win in the 4×100 as Williams, Walker and Mvumvure returned to the track little more than an hour later to run the same legs on LSU’s 4×200-meter relay team that clocked the fastest time in Friday’s qualifying round at 1 minute, 21.81 seconds.

With junior Riker Hylton running the leadoff leg in Saturday’s final, the Tigers found themselves within a tight battle with Texas A&M for the Championship of America title. Mvumvure took the baton from Walker on the anchor leg with a slight advantage over Aggie standout Demetrius Pinder and won the race to the finish line in 1:20.62. Texas A&M finished in a close second place with a time of 1:20.72.

LSU’s winning time of 1:20.62 stands as the eighth-fastest 4×200-meter relay time in Penn Relays history as the Tigers won their fifth Championship of America title in the event and their first since 2006.

If his performance in anchoring LSU to a pair of relay championships were not enough, Mvumvure added a championship victory in the men’s 100-meter dash for good measure. After earning his lane in the finals with the fastest qualifying time of 10.36 on Friday afternoon, Mvumvure clocked a wind-legal 10.33 for a win over TCU’s Charles Simon (10.41) in a race run into a strong headwind of 1.0 meters per second.

A native of Harare, Zimbabwe, Mvumvure is just the second LSU Tiger in Penn Relays history to win the men’s 100-meter dash championship as he joins Trindon Holliday (10.16) in 2009.

“I’m in the best shape of my life. All of the hard work that I’ve put in my first three years is paying off for me this season,” Mvumvure said. “I’m very proud to run with these guys. To come here to Penn and get a win in both relays is very special to me. This weekend has been very fun for me and my teammates.”

In her Penn Relays debut, Stowers beat an NCAA caliber field to the finish line in 100-meter hurdles final as she earned a wind-legal 13.16 to edge South Carolina’s Kierre Beckles (13.20) at the tape. Stowers also finished well ahead of the 13.23 recorded by All-American Natasha Ruddock of Texas A&M.

With her victory, Stowers became the seventh Lady Tiger in meet history to strike gold in the 100 hurdles at the Penn Relays and the first since former LSU national champion Nickiesha Wilson in 2008.

The Lady Tigers were impressive in a runner-up finish in the Championship of America relay final for the 4×400-meter relay as they set a new 2011 outdoor seasonal best in the final event of the meet.

Junior Rebecca Alexander (53.0), sophomore Latoya McDermott (53.50), junior Jonique Day (53.50) and junior Cassandra Tate (52.74) finished the four-lap race in 3:32.65 to take second place overall behind the foursome from Texas (3:30.08). Texas A&M finished in third place with a time of 3:35.69, after dropping the baton on the final exchange of the race on the anchor leg.

With their performance, the Lady Tigers moved into the Top 5 of the NCAA rankings in the mile relay, as their time of 3:32.65 ranks No. 5 at the collegiate level for the 2011 outdoor season.

Led by a 44.68-second split by Hylton on the anchor leg, the Tigers nearly set a seasonal best of their own in the 4×400-meter relay as they also earned a second-place finish in the final event of this year’s meet. Hylton anchored the team to a time of 3:02.33 as junior Robert Simmons (46.3), junior Ade Alleyne-Forte (45.6), and sophomore Caleb Williams (45.73) finished runner-up to Texas A&M (3:01.73).

Their performance of 3:02.33 ranks as LSU’s third-fastest 4×400-meter relay time run by the Tigers at the Penn Relays, while Hylton’s split of 44.68 is the fastest ever by a Tiger in meet history.

“We really did a great job with every relay we lined up to run today,” Shaver said. “Our men got it started off with two big wins in the 4×100 and 4×200. I thought they also did a great job of competing in the mile relay there at the end. It’s just a lot of fun watching a team compete the way we competed today. It makes me proud as a coach to see our athletes give it everything they’ve got and run to win.”

Junior All-American and NCAA title hopeful Barrett Nugent nearly defended the Penn Relays gold medal he won a year ago in the men’s 110-meter hurdles as he finished runner-up with a time of 13.70.

Nugent, who became LSU’s first champion in the 110-meter hurdles as a sophomore in 2010, was second in Saturday’s final to Texas Tech star Omo Osaghae (13.35).

In the final of the women’s 100-meter dash, the Lady Tigers took third place and fourth place overall after junior Semoy Hackett ran 11.43 and senior Kenyanna Wilson ran 11.45 for the championship. Lady Tiger freshman Toshika Sylvester set a new personal best of 11.54 en route to a sixth-place finish.

Junior Aaron Moore led the way for LSU in the field events on Saturday as he shattered his lifetime PR in the javelin with a throw of 228 feet, 6 inches to take fifth place in the championship division. Senior Mark DeBlanc (204-3) and junior Ryan Roubion (193-11) also set seasonal bests in the college section.

Now that the Tigers and Lady Tigers have wrapped up the regular season, they will return to Baton Rouge and prepare for the start of the championship season in two weeks as they head to Athens, Ga., to compete at the 2011 Southeastern Conference Outdoor Track & Field Championships set to run from May 12-15 at Spec Town Track at the University of Georgia.