EUGENE, Ore. — After failing to advance to the 100 meters final Wednesday, LSU sprinter Aaron Ernest didn’t need a lot of extra motivation to make sure it didn’t happen for a second consecutive day.
Ernest returned to the NCAA championships Thursday afternoon with a short memory and quickly earned a spot in the 200 meters final when he finished second in his semifinal heat.
Ernest posted a time of 20.55 seconds while running into a slight headwind to earn an automatic spot in Saturday’s final, finishing just behind USC’s Aaron Brown (20.45). That eventually stood up to be the second-fastest time of the day.
Even though the 200 is considered to be his stronger event, Ernest was upset about the 100 because it was the first time in his three-year collegiate career that he didn’t reach the final in that race.
So he came back Thursday intent on atoning for it and helped lead LSU’s effort on the second day of the four-day meet.
After getting two relay teams and four individuals through to finals Wednesday, the sixth-ranked Tigers and eighth-ranked Lady Tigers didn’t have a lot of competitors Thursday.
But they added two more individuals — Ernest and hurdler Jasmin Stowers — and another relay to set the table for the LSU teams going into the final two days of the competition.
“Most definitely,” a relieved Ernest said when asked about not needing any motivation Thursday.
“That was the first time I’ve ever missed a 100 final as a collegiate athlete, so I knew that I had to get ready for the 200. The biggest thing was I had to forget about the past.
“I was very bitter about it, but I put myself in the hole after the first 10 meters (in the 100). I closed well, but I was very disappointed overall. You just have to have a short memory.”
Ernest said he had a conversation with coach Dennis Shaver on Wednesday night after they returned to the team hotel. He said Shaver told him to let it go and get himself mentally ready for the 200.
Firing out of the blocks more confidently than in the 100, Ernest took control of the race in the curve and then ran stride-for-stride with Brown down the stretch before coasting in.
“Today, (the 100) was gone from my mind,” said Ernest, who runs the second leg on the 4x100 relay team that qualified for Saturday’s final. “When I got to the track, it was all about the 200. I had the second-fastest time, so I’m happy about that.”
Stowers also had a strong showing in the 100-meter hurdles Thursday evening, recording a time of 12.98 seconds against a headwind to easily win her heat. It was the fourth-fastest time of the semis.
“The main focus was just to get to the next round, but I needed to get a good start and get out (of the blocks) and finish,” said Stowers, who was running one lane over from Baylor’s Tiffani McReynolds. “Tiffani is known to get out fast, so once I ran past her I knew it was good.”
McReynolds took second in 13.11 to earn the other automatic spot for Saturday’s final.
LSU finished the day by winning its heat of the 4x400 relay.
The team of Quincy Downing, Darrell Bush, Cyril Grayson and Vernon Norwood recorded a time of 3 minutes, 3.43 seconds to earn its spot in the final.
The men’s team is poised to pick up its first points of the meet Friday when Downing and Norwood line up in the finals of the 400 hurdles and open 400, respectively, while Rodney Brown goes in the discus.
On the women’s side, the Lady Tigers will add to the four points that Denise Hinton scored in the hammer on Wednesday with Nikita Tracey and Chanice Chase in the 400 hurdles final. Lynnika Pitts is also in the triple jump.
“I’m very pleased with the way our athletes continue to approach the meet by taking it one day at a time, and preparing themselves as best they can to compete at their full potential,” Shaver said.
“That’s what has gotten us to this point, so we can now think about scoring the points needed to finish strong as a team on both sides.
“We’ve done everything we needed to do to this point to give ourselves the best opportunity to compete over the final two days of the championships.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter@MicklesAdvocate.