Ernest Wins 200; Track & Field in Top-5 at SEC's

by Will Stafford (@WillStaffordLSU)
Final Results LSU's SEC Champions +0
Ernest Wins 200; Track & Field in Top-5 at SEC's

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Senior sprinter Aaron Ernest was crowned the SEC Indoor Champion in the men’s 200-meter dash for the second time in his collegiate career and the Tigers and Lady Tigers turned in five All-SEC performances on the day to take home a pair of top-five team finishes in Saturday’s finale at the 2015 SEC Indoor Track & Field Championships.

Ernest reclaimed the SEC Indoor crown in the men’s 200 meters that he last won as a sophomore in 2013 to lead a scoring barrage by the Tigers in the sprints and hurdles on the final day of the competition.

Senior Joshua Thompson earned his first career All-SEC honor as the SEC Indoor silver medalist in the men’s 60-meter hurdles, while senior Vernon Norwood won his second-straight SEC Indoor bronze medal to secure All-SEC honors once again the men’s 400-meter dash. The Lady Tigers scored the silver medal in the women’s distance medley relay and the Tigers brought home the bronze medal in the men’s 4×400-meter relay in an exciting finish to the championship held at Kentucky’s Nutter Field House in Lexington.

In addition, two Lady Tiger rookies were also named to the SEC All-Freshman Team as the league’s top freshmen in their events with Daeshon Gordon in the 60-meter hurdles and Gabby Figueroa in the weight throw.

Their performance helped lead LSU Track & Field to a pair of Top 5 team finishes in the final standings at this year’s SEC Indoor Championships as the Tigers scored 53 points and the Lady Tigers totaled 51 points to claim fifth-place finishes on both sides. Florida was crowned the men’s team champion with 114 points, while Arkansas took home the women’s team title with 130.5 points for the weekend.

Rounding out the Top 5 in the final team standings was Arkansas (89) in second place, Texas A&M (87) in third place and Ole Miss (62) in fourth place in the men’s team race; and Florida (86) in second place, Texas A&M (81.9) in third place and Kentucky (76) in fourth place in the women’s team race over the two days of championship action at the University of Kentucky.

“I thought both of our teams finished strongly here today, and really maximized our scoring opportunities after a good day of qualifying yesterday,” said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “We always approach meets like this as a separate track meet each day. I thought we had a strong start in the field events and qualifying on the track yesterday, and followed that up with another good performance here this afternoon.

“I’m just very proud with the way our teams competed across the board this weekend. We finished strong as a team at this SEC Championship, and that really sets us up for NCAA Indoors in a couple of weeks.”

After Lady Tiger senior Tori Bliss threw a meet record of 60 feet, 1 inch to win the women’s shot put in Friday’s opener, Ernest sprinted to LSU’s second SEC Indoor title of the weekend in dominating fashion in the 200-meter final when he took the tape in the second heat with a time of 20.69 seconds to finish more than two tenths of a second ahead of the rest of the championship field.

With Texas A&M’s Shavez Hart clocking 20.90 to win the first heat, Ernest knew the challenge before him when he took his mark in the second heat alongside the likes of Tiger teammate Tremayne Acy, Florida’s Dedric Dukes and Arkansas’ Kenzo Cotton. He took control of the race on the curve and never looked back, finishing in 20.69 ahead of Dukes (20.96), Acy (20.96) and Cotton (21.19) and claiming the SEC Indoor crown.

Ernest’s title-clinching run of 20.69 was more than two tenths of a second faster than Hart (20.90) in second place and Dukes (20.96) in third place to round out the medalists. The Tigers tallied 15 points in the finals with Acy (20.96) adding five points with a fourth-place finish in his first career SEC Championship final.

While the Tigers have now won seven SEC Indoor titles in the men’s 200 meters in team history, Ernest is just the second Tiger to win two titles as he joins former LSU star Rohsaan Griffin (1995, 1996). It marked a third career All-SEC honor indoors for Ernest as he also won the SEC Indoor silver medal at Kentucky’s Nutter Field House during his freshman season in 2012.

The team’s top scorer at this year’s championship, Ernest tallied 14 points on the day as he added a career-best fifth-place finish in the 60-meter final with a time of 6.70 in his first race of the afternoon.

“It feels great,” Ernest quipped after winning the 200-meter title. “Last year I was hurt for pretty much the whole indoor season and I wasn’t healthy running at SECs. I still remember my freshman year here when I got second, and I never really let that one go. So, it felt good to come out here and run well and win it again for a second time.

“If you’re in the second heat, it definitely helps. Seeing what they do in that first heat gives you a mindset about what you’ve got to do. In my freshman year, I won the first heat but then ended up coming second that year. This time, I got to run in the second heat knowing what I had to do to win it instead of waiting for what was going to come behind me. I knew I could run that (20.90), so it felt good to go out and do it.”

After qualifying for her first career SEC final with a personal-best time of 8.23 seconds in Friday’s preliminary round, Gordon dropped her best time once again in Saturday’s final of the women’s 60-meter hurdles when she crossed the finish line in 8.20 for fifth place in her SEC Championships debut. That effort scored four big points for the Lady Tigers in what proved to be the fastest hurdle final in meet history.

Kentucky’s Kendra Harrison broke her own SEC Indoor Championships meet record with a winning time of 7.92, while Florida’s Bridgette Owens scored the silver medal in 8.08 and Mississippi State’s Erica Bougard took home the bronze medal in 8.14. Gordon was nipped at the finish line by just four one-thousandths of a second by Auburn’s Samantha Scarlett as they clocked matching times of 8.20.

Rounding out the scorers in the women’s 60 hurdles were Kentucky’s Leah Nugent (8.27) in sixth place, Alabama’s Vanessa Clerveaux (8.34) in seventh place and South Carolina’s Chalese Davis (8.41) in eighth place.

Gordon earned SEC All-Freshman Team honors with her performance as the top freshman in the field, while also improving her qualifying position for the NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championship with a time of 8.20 that gave her the No. 13-ranked performance nationally for the 2015 indoor season, pending other results from across the country this weekend.

The dust had barely settled on the Nutter Field House straightaway when Thompson and sophomore teammate Jordan Moore were called to their blocks for the final race in the men’s 60-meter hurdles.

While entering the meet with a seasonal best and personal best of 7.73 set in his victory at the Tyson Invitational back on Feb. 13, Thompson matched his career-best performance when she raced to the finish line with a time of 7.73 in Saturday’s hurdle final to earn his first career All-SEC honor as the SEC Indoor silver medalist. Arkansas’ Omar McLeod proved to be the class of the field as he took the title by more than two tenths of a second with a meet-winning time of 7.49, while South Carolina’s Jermaine Collier followed Thompson as the bronze medalist in 7.83.

Moore, who lined up in his first career SEC final just a matter of weeks after transferring to LSU in January, posted five points for the Tigers with his run of 7.84 for fourth place as he nipped Florida’s Yanick Hart (7.84) in fifth place and South Carolina’s Jussi Kanervo (7.84) in sixth place at the finish line. South Carolina’s Isaiah Moore (7.85) and Ole Miss’ Robert Semien (7.89) rounded out the scorers in the men’s 60 hurdles.

Thompson’s All-SEC performance as the silver medalist in the men’s 60-meter hurdles made him the top LSU Tiger in the event in five seasons since Barrett Nugent was crowned the SEC Indoor Champion in 2010.

The Tigers then picked up eight more points in the men’s 400-meter final when Norwood won his second-straight NCAA Indoor bronze medal with a time of 45.68 for third place and fellow senior Quincy Downing had a time of 46.52 for seventh place in the event. Norwood (45.68) won the first heat, but finished third overall behind Florida’s Najee Glass (45.37) and Texas A&M’s Bralon Taplin (45.52) running in the second section.

They later teamed to help the Tigers earn All-SEC honors with a bronze-medal-winning third-place finish in the 4×400-meter relay as LSU’s team of Downing, junior Darrell Bush, junior Cyril Grayson and Norwood timed 3:05.05 for third place overall behind SEC Indoor champion Texas A&M (3:03.75) and runner-up Florida (3:04.28) in a repeat of last year’s relay final at the SEC Indoor meet.

Rounding out the scoring for the Tigers on the meet’s final day was a fourth-place finish in the men’s distance medley relay as the team of sophomore Blair Henderson, junior Fitzroy Dunkley, freshman Jack Wilkes and senior Philip Primeaux combined to run the fifth-fastest DMR indoors in program history at 9:47.84 to add five big points toward the team’s final score. The Tigers were fourth in the race behind the champions Ole Miss (9:43.87), silver medalists Texas A&M (9:46.00) and bronze medalists Missouri (9:46.65).

While his teammates had yet to do damage on the track, senior Andreas Duplantis put the Tigers on the scoreboard early in Saturday’s finale at this year’s SEC Indoor meet when he cleared a height of 16-5 ½ for eighth place overall in the men’s pole vault. It marked the second year in a row in which Duplantis took home an eighth-place finish in the pole vault at the SEC Indoor meet.

Duplantis actually ends his collegiate career as a three-time scorer for the Tigers at the SEC Indoor Track & Field Championships as he was also the pole vault bronze medalist during his sophomore season in 2013.

“I’m so proud with the way our men’s team competed at this meet, and with how much they improved themselves as a team from the last time we came to these championships,” Shaver said. “To finish in the Top 5 at this meet and score more than twice the amount of points as we did a year ago says a lot about how hard those guys competed over the two days here in Kentucky. They can be proud for what they accomplished.”

Sophomore Jada Martin proved to be the top scorer on the track for the Lady Tigers during Saturday’s finale at the SEC Indoor Championships when she lined up in both the women’s 60-meter and 200-meter finals.

She first stepped onto the track for the 60-meter final and turned in an eighth-place finish with a run of 7.44 to score her first point on the afternoon in a race that saw Alabama’s Remona Burchell set a collegiate record of 7.08 in victory. Martin later returned to the track for her first SEC finals appearance in the 200 meters and sprinted to the finish line in 23.40 for fourth place overall.

Martin was runner-up in the first of two sections in the women’s 200-meter final as she followed Texas A&M’s eventual bronze medalist Kamaria Brown (23.03) across the finish line in the heat. Florida’s Kyra Jefferson and Kentucky’s Dezerea Bryant battled one another for the title with Jefferson outlasting the defending SEC Indoor and NCAA Indoor champion to the finish line with matching times of 23.02.

Perhaps no Lady Tiger enjoyed a performance quite like sophomore Morgan Schuetz during Saturday’s competition as she smashed her lifetime personal best in the 800-meter final by more than a second and a half in a fourth-place finish to score five points for the Lady Tigers in her first career SEC Indoor final. After qualifying second in 2:06.72 in Friday’s prelim, Schuetz raced to the seventh-fastest time in school history at 2:04.87 in the final to take fourth place and move herself into the No. 14 spot in the NCAA rankings for the 2015 season.

It was a blistering final that saw Arkansas’ Chrishuna Williams win the SEC title by more than one second in 2:02.95, followed by Ole Miss’ Brooke Feldmeier in second place at 2:04.34 and Florida’s Claudia Francis in third place at 2:04.39 ahead of Schuetz (2:04.87) in fourth place overall. The Lady Tigers scored seven points in the event as junior Andria Aguilar followed in seventh place with a run of 2:09.17.

Like Norwood and Downing in the men’s 4×400 relay, Aguilar and Schuetz later returned to action to lead the Lady Tigers to All-SEC honors while winning the SEC Indoor silver medal in the distance medley relay final.

With Aguilar leading off on the 1,200-meter leg and Schuetz running anchor on the mile leg, they teamed with junior Kiersten Duncan (400 meters) and sophomore Danielle Avery (800 meters) in running the No. 5 time in the indoor DMR in school history at 11:25.24 to score eight points and earn All-SEC honors with their second-place finish. Arkansas took the tape more than five seconds ahead of LSU with a winning 11:19.85.

The Lady Tigers then wrapped up the meet by scoring four points with a fifth-place finish in the women’s 4×400-meter relay when the team of freshman Keterra Harris, Martin, Gordon and sophomore Travia Jones ran a seasonal-best time of 3:39.09 to win the second heat with the fifth-fastest time of the day behind Arkansas (3:30.79), Kentucky (3:31.43), Texas A&M (3:32.90) and Florida (3:34.28).

“Our women’s team did a lot to help themselves at this meet in terms of adding to our roster that we’ll be taking to the NCAA Championships in two weeks, particularly on the track,” Shaver said. “When you see those like Morgan Schuetz who are running a second and a half faster than they’ve ever run before in their life, you can’t ask for much more than that. That’s what’s going to help us when we go to nationals.”

The Lady Tigers picked up seven quick points to start Saturday’s competition when junior Shanice Hall claimed a career-best sixth-place finish in the women’s high jump, sophomore Nataliyah Friar picked up a seventh-place finish in the women’s triple jump and Figueroa added a seventh-place finish in the women’s weight throw in the first field-event finals of the afternoon.

Following a second-attempt clearance at the opening height of 5 feet, 5 ¾ inches and a first-attempt clearance at 5-7 ¾, Hall matched her indoor personal best with a successful clearance of 5-9 ¾ on her final attempt at that bar to secure sixth place in the competition for her first scoring performance for the Lady Tigers at the SEC Championships. She went out of the high jump with three fouls at a height of 5-11 ¼.

After jumping a lifetime personal best of 20-9 ¾ on her sixth and final attempt in Friday’s long jump competition to earn a career-best SEC finish of fourth place in the event, Friar returned to the Nutter Field House this afternoon and added two points to LSU’s team total with a series-best jump of 41-10 ½ in the second round for seventh place overall.

It proved to be a breakthrough performance for Friar at this year’s SEC Indoor Championships while totaling seven points while emerging as the second-highest scoring Lady Tiger over two days of competition.

Figueroa was another in LSU’s heralded freshman class to make her mark in her debut appearance at the SEC Indoor Championships when she scored two points with a seventh-place finish in the weight throw final on Saturday, throwing a series-best of 60-6 ½ on her fifth attempt of the competition. Fellow freshman Sidnie Wilder just missed out on the final as she threw 56-11 ¼ in qualifying to finish in 10th place overall.

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 2015 indoor season on March 13-14 at Arkansas’ Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville. Qualifiers for the NCAA Championships will be announced on Tuesday night.