JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — After a difficult time in the wind at the Southeastern Conference championships two weeks ago, LSU’s 400-meter hurdlers had a lot to prove in the NCAA East preliminary rounds Thursday and Friday.
The Tigers’ Quincy Downing and Lady Tigers’ Nikita Tracey and Chanice Chase did what they had to do Thursday in getting through the first round, before they finished the job Friday night.
All three advanced to the NCAA championships, to be held June 11-14 in Eugene, Oregon, by winning their quarterfinal heats to lead LSU’s performance on the second day of the three-day competition.
Downing posted a personal record for the second day in a row when he surged to the front late to win his heat in 50.49 seconds, the second-fastest time of the day. He clocked a time of 50.54 seconds in the first round Thursday after placing eighth in the SEC final May 18.
A few minutes later, Chase raced to a win in her heat in 56.40 seconds and Tracey followed with a 56.23 — with both winning handily. Tracy was fourth and Chase finished fifth in the 400 hurdles final at the SEC meet.
LSU also picked up five other qualifiers Friday for nationals, a list that was led by Aaron Ernest in the 100 and Vernon Norwood in the 400.
But the hurdlers stood out by winning their heats.
“I think all three of them are either running (personal records) or they’re right at their PRs,” LSU coach Dennis Shaver said. “They’ve done a good job of getting themselves prepared and going out and making it to the next round.
“The emphasis (Friday) was to win the heat and get a good lane for nationals. They’re all gaining confidence along the way, but the objective was to win the heat, and that was an awesome thing for them to accomplish.”
Downing almost fell going over the sixth of 10 hurdles but was able to regain his balance and surge to the win in the final 40 meters.
“I clipped the hurdle with my left foot, so I don’t know how I made it over,” he said. “The thought process at the time was to keep my focus and pick up my speed again. I knew I had the speed and stamina to finish the race.”
The hurdlers took the track after Norwood finished second in his quarterfinal heat with a time of 45.17 seconds, which matched the PR he set at the SEC meet earlier this month. It stood up as the second-fastest time of the day.
“At this point, I’ll take what I can get,” said Norwood, who chased Pittsburgh’s Brycen Spratling (45.09) to the finish line. “I didn’t execute as well as I wanted to, but getting to the next round is huge.”
Ernest then won his 100 heat in 10.19 seconds and wound up with the third-fastest time of the day before returning to win his first-round heat of the 200 meters in 20.74 seconds.
Like the hurdlers, Ernest wasn’t satisfied with his performance at the SEC meet after returning from a season-long hamstring injury.
“I knew that I had to put up a better performance to help my team,” he said.
LSU’s other qualifiers Friday were Jeremy Tuttle in the hammer, Lynnika Pitts in the high jump and Rushell Harvey in the 100.
Tuttle finished ninth in the hammer before a 3½-hour weather delay with a best of 213 feet, 10 inches, while Pitts tied for eighth in the women’s high jump at 5-9¾. Harvey also made it through in the 100 with a time of 11.46 seconds.
Late Friday, Harvey came back to advance to Saturday’s quarterfinals in the 200 when she clocked a time of 23.77 seconds. She was one of three Lady Tigers to advance in the event as Kiersten Duncan clocked a time of 23.66 seconds and Toshika Sylvester got in at 23.77.
In the men’s 200, Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake got through along with Ernest when he recorded a time of 20.84 seconds.
LSU also advanced four athletes in the short hurdles.
Jasmin Stowers and Chase made it to the 100 hurdles with times of 13.02 and13.20 seconds, while Joshua Thompson and Joshua Lamers posted times of 13.86 and 14.03.
Also Friday, meet officials elevated LSU’s Denise Hinton to fifth place in the hammer after a review of video showed she did not foul on her first attempt of the quarterfinals Thursday. Hinton originally qualified 10th for nationals with a throw of 196-6, but her mark was corrected to 202-2 following a protest by LSU coaches.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.