Hinton Defends SEC Weight Throw Title

by Will Stafford (@WillStaffordLSU)
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Hinton Defends SEC Weight Throw Title

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Senior Denise Hinton defended her SEC Indoor crown in the women’s weight throw with a school-record performance and six other athletes turned in medal-winning performances at the Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium to lead the Tigers and Lady Tigers in Saturday’s finale at the 2014 SEC Indoor Track & Field Championships.

Senior Jasmin Stowers scored the SEC Indoor silver medal in the women’s 60-meter hurdles, while fellow senior Lynnika Pitts took home the bronze medal in the women’s triple jump and junior Vernon Norwood won the bronze medal in the men’s 400-meter dash as each set lifetime personal records to secure their spots in the field for the NCAA Championships.

Norwood also anchored the Tigers to a bronze-medal-winning third-place finish in perhaps the most exciting race of the weekend as they nearly set a new indoor school record with their performance.

The Arkansas Razorbacks scored 121 in three days of competition in College Station to defend their SEC Indoor team title on the men’s side while winning the team championship for the third-straight year. Florida took second place in the men’s team race with 106 points, followed by Texas A&M in third place with 83.33 points, Alabama in fourth place with 76 points and Kentucky in fifth place with 69.33 points.

The Florida Gators dethroned defending women’s team champion Arkansas while piling up 102 points over the course of the meet. Texas A&M appeared to win the women’s team title following the 4×400-meter relay before the Aggies were disqualified in the race to fall back to second place with 96.5 points. Rounding out the top five in the women’s team race were Arkansas (93.5), Kentucky (72) and Georgia (64.5).

The Lady Tigers wrapped up a sixth-place team finish with 47 points in the women’s team race, while the Tigers took home 10th place on the men’s side while scoring 26 points during the weekend.

Hinton’s victory in the women’s weight throw extended an impressive streak by the Lady Tigers as they have now won at least one SEC Indoor event title in all 30 seasons they have competed at the SEC Indoor Track & Field Championships dating back to the 1985 season.

“I thought our teams finished strong today. I’m proud of the effort we saw through the last event today,” said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “This is a good springboard for both our teams as we look forward to going to the NCAA meet in a couple of weeks. What we did here this weekend put us in a much better position to compete when we go to Albuquerque to wrap up this indoor season.”

Despite entering the meet as the defending SEC Indoor champion in the women’s weight throw, Hinton played the role of underdog in Saturday’s competition as Texas A&M’s Brea Garrett owned the national-leading and SEC-leading mark of 74 feet, 4 ¼ inches from earlier in the season. Hinton followed as the No. 2-ranked thrower in the SEC and No. 7-ranked performer nationally with her best of 70-1 in 2014.

And it looked as though Garrett might take the crown from Hinton with a leading marks of 70-5 ¼ in the first round of qualifying round and 72-0 ¾ in the fourth round of the final during the competition.

After advancing to the final in second place with her top mark of 69-4 ¾ in the third round of qualifying, Hinton rose to the occasion as she followed a seasonal-best throw of 70-6 ½ in the fourth round with her second-straight seasonal best of 73-11 in the fifth round to take a commanding lead over Garrett that she would not relinquish over the final two throws by the Aggie junior.

Hinton’s winning throw of 73-11 broke her own school record in the event of 70-9 ¼ set during her junior season in 2013, while it also moved her up five spots into the No. 2 position in the NCAA rankings in 2014.

Hinton made history with her victory in the women’s weight throw as last year’s SEC Indoor Championships in Fayetteville, Ark., as she became the first Lady Tiger in program history to be crowned the SEC champion in either the weight throw indoors or hammer throw outdoors. She is now the first Lady Tiger to win back-to-back SEC titles in either event in team history.

Hinton was joined in Saturday’s weight throw final by senior teammate Karen Henning, who posted her third-best mark of the season at 61-2 ¾ to take ninth place overall in the final.

“I just kept telling myself I’ve got nothing to lose,” Hinton said of her ranking coming into the meet. “I didn’t really feel any kind of pressure to win. Last year, I won it on my first throw and it was great, but there wasn’t the kind of competition like we had today. I had to stay under control and really stay within myself. It pushed me. The competition is what helped me put one out there 73 feet.

“I just did what Coach (Derek Yush) told me to do. He told me to counter the throw, to just sit back on it so the weight doesn’t throw me around the ring, and also to keep my arms flat because the more flat my orbit is the more control I have over the ball. I already had a pretty good throw before that, so I just did what he told me to do and put one out there.”

Stowers will end her collegiate career as the most decorated Lady Tiger to compete in the 60-meter hurdles at the SEC Indoor Championships after winning her fourth-straight All-SEC honor in the event Saturday.

Stowers entered the meet as the three-time defending SEC Indoor champion in the event as she set her sights on becoming the first woman in meet history to win four-straight SEC Indoor titles in the sprint hurdles in a collegiate career. It took an SEC Indoor Championships meet record of 7.94 seconds by Kentucky’s Kendra Harrison to take the crown from Stowers as the Lady Tiger senior followed across the finish line in 8.01 as she scored the silver medal while matching her personal best set at the New Mexico Team Invitational earlier this season.

The two SEC rivals are sure to face off again in two weeks as they battle for the national championship at the NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships while taking the NCAA’s No. 1-ranked and No. 2-ranked times, respectively, to Albuquerque, N.M., on March 14-15. Stowers will look to become the first Lady Tiger to win the NCAA Indoor crown since the great Lolo Jones in 2003.

Stowers also has LSU’s school record within striking distance as her personal best of 8.01 is just two one-hundredths of a second off of Joyce Bates’ 14-year-old program mark of 7.99 set back in 2000.

The Lady Tigers piled up 11 points in the final of the 60-meter hurdles as junior teammate Mariah Georgetown followed in sixth place with a personal-best run of 8.29, breaking her previous PR of 8.31 set in the prelims on Friday afternoon. Georgetown scored three points for the Lady Tigers in her SEC Championships debut as she will finish the 2014 indoor season ranked among the NCAA’s Top 30 hurdlers for her efforts.

Rounding out the field in the women’s 60 hurdles were Kentucky teammates Kayla Parker (8.16) and Leah Nugent (8.20) in third and fourth place, respectively, while Auburn’s Samantha Scarlett (8.21) followed in fifth, Florida’s Skylar Ross-Ransom (8.32) trailed in seventh and Auburn’s Ebony Morrison (8.38) finished in eighth.

“I knew I had to focus on my start. That’s usually the part of my race that needs the most work,” Stowers said. “I don’t think I started this race as well as I would have liked to. I thought my practice at the warm up track was much better than in the race. Right from the gun, she (Kendra Harrison) got out fast and I had to try to catch her from there. Running the hurdles was pretty good though, so I was hoping to run something fast.

“Of course, I was shooting for the gold. This being my last time, I wanted to win it. The SEC meet is the best meet in the country, and to win it the last three years means a lot to me. It was an honor to compete here.”

Norwood followed Stowers with a medal-winning performance of his own as he sprinted to his second lifetime personal best in as many days to claim the SEC Indoor bronze medal in the men’s 400-meter dash.

While stepping onto the track in lane No. 5 in the first of two finals sections, Norwood took control of the race early and held the advantage over Florida’s duo of Najee Glass and Hugh Graham, Jr., when the trio hit the break. Norwood extended his lead on the backstretch of the second lap and surged around the final curve before crossing the finish line in 45.39 ahead of both Graham, Jr. (45.94) and Glass (45.95) to win the heat.

But the work was not done as Norwood waited anxiously for the results of the second heat to see if he would be crowned the SEC Indoor champion in the event for the 2014 season.

Norwood could only watch as Texas A&M’s Deon Lendore ran the fastest time in the world this season at 45.03 to beat Florida’s Arman Hall (45.28) to the tape in one of the most exciting finals of the weekend. It was a final that produced the three fastest times in the NCAA this season as Lendore (45.03), Hall (45.28) and Norwood (45.39) are the favorites to take home the NCAA Indoor crown in the event for 2014. Norwood’s indoor and lifetime PR of 45.39 also ranks No. 4 in both the World rankings for 2014 and LSU’s all-time indoor list in the 400 meters.

“I knew it was going to take a faster time than what I ran in the prelim to even have a chance to win today,” Norwood said. “The main thing I was trying to focus on was just being aggressive in my race and going out for the first 200. I think I could have been a little more aggressive, but I had a strong enough finish to put up a fast time and hope that would be enough.

“But watching those other two guys going through the first 200 at 21.2, I kind of knew they were going to be right there. I was hoping to hang on to second or third place from that point.”

The Tigers actually racked up 11 points of their own in the men’s 400-meter final as junior Quincy Downing and sophomore Darrell Bush each clocked indoor personal bests in the second finals section while also moving into qualifying position for the NCAA Indoor Championships in two weeks.

With Lendore winning the heat in 45.03 and Hall following in second at 45.28, Downing crossed the finish line in third place with an indoor PR of 46.21 and Bush trailed in fourth place in the race with his second indoor PR of the weekend at 46.28. They added five points to LSU’s team total as Downing was fifth place and Bush was sixth place overall after combining times between the two heats.

Downing now ranks No. 11 in the NCAA rankings for 2014 and No. 9 on LSU’s all-time list with his time of 46.21, while Bush follows at No. 13 in the NCAA rankings as both are one step closer to the national meet.

Bush, Downing and Norwood then teamed to run one of the fastest 4×400-meter relays indoors in school history in the fastest men’s relay final ever run at the SEC Indoor Championships in the final event of the meet.

The Tigers lined up in the third and final relay heat with Florida and Texas A&M as the trio entered the meet as the three fastest relay teams in the NCAA this season. All three then broke the previous SEC Indoor meet record of 3:04.18 as Texas A&M set the collegiate record indoors with a winning time of 3 minutes, 3.20 seconds, followed by Florida in second place at 3:03.50 and LSU in third place at 3:04.04.

The Tigers finished just three one-hundredths off of their indoor school record of 3:01.04 set back in 2006 as the team of Bush (47.05), Downing (45.72), sophomore Cyril Grayson (46.29) and Norwood (45.00) ended up as the No. 3-ranked team in the NCAA this season. They also broke their previous seasonal best of 3:04.60 set two weeks ago at the Tyson Invitational in Fayetteville, Ark.

“it was really fun,” Norwood said about running in that fast of a relay with his teammates. “Cyril, Quincy, Darrell, they all did a great job ahead of me. It’s just hard to catch those two guys when they’re splitting 44 and I am splitting that too. We did the best we could, and hopefully we get a little bit better at NCAAs. When the pressure is on, it’s better for me. I’m just ready to go there and have some fun.”

Like Norwood, Lady Tiger senior Nikita Tracey ran her second lifetime personal best in as many days and slashed more than four seconds off her previous PR over the course of the event when she tallied up five points with a fourth-place finish in the women’s 800-meter final. After qualifying with a previous lifetime best of 2:07.89 in Friday’s prelims, Tracey put herself in the mix for NCAA qualification by clocking 2:05.28 to take home a fourth-place finish behind only Arkansas’ Stephanie Brown (2:03.21), Alabama’s Yanique Malcolm (2:03.97) and Georgia’s Megan Malasarte (2:04.48).

Tracey became the No. 7-ranked 800-meter runner indoors in school history and the NCAA’s No. 11-ranked performer for the 2014 season, pending other results from conference meets across the country.

Also scoring big points for the Tigers and Lady Tigers during Saturday’s finale was their stable of triple jumpers, led by Pitts’ bronze-medal-winning and personal-best performance in the women’s triple jump final.

Pitts put herself in a strong position after jumping 42-7 in the second round of qualifying to take third place in the final three rounds of jumps. But after fouling her fourth and fifth jumps in the final, Pitts fell into fourth place when Auburn’s Marshay Ryan jumped her best of 43-5 ¼ to overtake the third position.

That’s when Pitts jumped farther than she ever had before in her collegiate career with a lifetime best of 44-0 ¾ on her sixth and final attempt of the competition to actually move into second place with only two other competitors left to jump. Texas A&M’s LaQue Moen-Davis reclaimed second place with her top mark of the day at 44-2 ½, while Florida’s Ciarra Brewer took the title with her opening mark of 44-7 in the first round.

Pitts became the first Lady Tiger six years to eclipse the 44-foot mark in the triple jump when former LSU All-American Andrea Linton jumped 44-6 ¼ indoors and 44-5 ¼ outdoors in 2008.

Her series-best jump of 44-0 ¾ on Saturday afternoon eclipsed her previous lifetime best of 43-9 set in a fourth-place finish at the SEC Indoor Championships a year ago. Pitts also moved into the No. 4 spot in the NCAA rankings for the 2014 season and the No. 7 spot on LSU’s all-time indoor performance list in the women’s triple jump with her heroics in this year’s final.

Fellow senior Keri Emanuel, who won the SEC Indoor silver medal a year ago, added two more points for the Lady Tigers with a seventh-place finish as she jumped a seasonal best of 41-10 ½ on her very first attempt.

“I had no idea,” Pitts said of knowing that her jump was going to be 44 feet when she landed in the pit. “There was a little camera or a microphone on the side of the pit, and I knew once I got to that I was going to have a decent mark. I had no idea it was going to be 44 feet, pretty good but not that far. It was good to get a mark early on. I knew I was in the finals after that and could just focus on jumping as far as I could.”

Pitts also talked about the importance of already jumping on the runway at the Albuquerque Convention Center, where she will jump again in two weeks at the NCAA Indoor Championships.

“It’s definitely going to help me,” Pitts said. “The altitude there was a little shocking the first time. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that. This time, I’ll be more prepared and I’ll be more hydrated the whole time. This helped me to know how it’s going to feel. I’m looking forward to the challenge of going there and jumping again.”

The Tigers scored big themselves with their finish in the men’s triple jump as sophomore Fitzroy Dunkley and freshman Jonathan Pitt each turned in lifetime personal-best performances while combining for five points in the event. Dunkley jumped an indoor best of 50-10 in the third round to advance to the final before matching his lifetime PR of 51-5 in the fifth round the lock up fifth place overall in the event. Pitt set his lifetime PR of 50-2 ½ in the third round of qualifying, which held on for eighth place over the final three rounds in the final.

Alabama’s Jeremiah Green won the men’s triple jump at 53-5 ½, followed by Arkansas’ Anthony May (52-2 ½) and Missouri’s duo of Jonathon Ilori (51-8 ½) and Tony Carodine (51-6 ¼) to round out the top five.

Also scoring one point for the Tigers with their performance Saturday were senior Shermund Allsop, who ran 21.25 for an eighth-place finish in the men’s 200-meter final, and senior Joseph Caraway and junior Andreas Duplantis, who cleared matching heights of 16-4 to tie one another for eighth place in the men’s pole vault.

With the SEC Indoor Championships now in the record books, the Tigers and Lady Tigers will prepare themselves over the next two weeks to compete at the NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships as they will wrap up the 2014 indoor season on March 14-15 at the Albuquerque Convention Center in Albuquerque, N.M.