For more than 25 years, ever since the LSU women’s track and field program burst onto the national scene in 1985, the Lady Tigers have been known primarily for their sprinters, hurdlers and jumpers.
And when it comes to their sprinters, the great ones often come in pairs.
Names like Sheila Echols and Michelle King, Dawn Sowell and Esther Jones, Cheryl Taplin and Dahlia Duhaney, D’Andre Hill and Zundra Feagin, and Muna Lee and Stephanie Durst are prominent in the school’s record books as tandem short sprinters that helped LSU to 25 national titles.
Their latest dynamic duo is Kimberlyn Duncan and Semoy Hackett — two of the nation’s top sprinters this season and two names to watch for in the NCAA Outdoor Championships that begin Wednesday in Des Moines, Iowa.
There, third-ranked LSU hopes to give No. 1 Oregon and second-ranked Texas A&M, which has taken the past two outdoor titles, a double dose of Duncan and Hackett along with a deep sprint corps that includes Kenyanna Wilson, Toshika Sylvester and Rebecca Alexander.
It all starts, however, with Duncan and Hackett, who are running at a high level as both proved at the Southeastern Conference Championships in mid-May and the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds last week.
“If they don’t do well, we’re (in trouble),” LSU coach Dennis Shaver said. “We really have to get good point production in the 100 and 200 if we’re going to have a chance at the team title.
“Going to this meet, everyone is extremely important,” he said. “Everyone going has an opportunity to score. But what makes those two sprint events especially important is that one of the teams (Texas A&M) in the hunt with LSU is in those same events.”
That’s where Duncan and Hackett, who’ve both been mentioned on the watch list for The Bowerman — college track and field’s equivalent of the Heisman — come in.
Duncan, the reigning NCAA champion in the indoor 200, and Hackett raced to a 1-2 finish in the 200 meters at the SEC outdoor meet after Hackett and Duncan ran 1-3 in the 100.
Naturally, they’re an important cog on LSU’s 4x100 relay team, which is another key head-to-head event for the Lady Tigers in their quest to best the Aggies and possibly Oregon.
At the SEC meet, Hackett and Duncan combined for 39 points — nearly 27 percent of the Lady Tigers’ winning total of 146 — then put together strong showings in the 100 and 200 at the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds last weekend.
The best part of it, as far as Shaver is concerned, is Hackett and Duncan genuinely don’t care who wins as long as “LSU” is on the front of the uniforms.
“Me and Kim, we’re good friends,” said Hackett, a junior and a native of Trinidad & Tobago who transferred to LSU last fall after two years at Division II Lincoln University. “All the sprinters get along, and we really communicate well.
“I pull her through (training) and sometimes she pulls me through, and we encourage each other,” she added. “We’re both going out there to run the best we can. If we run 1-2, that’s great points because we’re looking forward to winning a team championship.”
Duncan said the two clicked, especially when Hackett was new to the program and was trying to get used to a new training regimen and lots of new faces around her.
“We do push each other during workouts and in our races,” said Duncan, a native of Katy, Texas. “We’re both near the top of our (descending order) lists, and we’re training hard and competing hard.”
Hackett and Duncan have recorded wind-legal bests of 11.17 and 11.31 seconds in the 100 this spring.
But Shaver said Duncan, a sophomore who’s more suited for the 200 because she’s a strong finisher, is capable of scoring in the 100 as well this week based on her recent performances.
“Late last season, Kimberlyn really started to see the potential in herself,” Shaver said. “I think her parents saw a lot of talent, but I’m not sure early in her career she thought she could accomplish the things we thought she could.
“She trained hard and gained a lot of confidence, and I think her 200 time has come down from running the 100 better,” he said. “I think she knows now that she can run with people and be a real efficient runner.”
Duncan said despite her breakthrough victory in the 200 at the NCAA indoor meet in March, she knows that she can improve on her starts — especially in the 100.
“In high school, I didn’t have a start at all,” said Duncan, who has a season’s-best of 22.76 seconds in the 200 with Hackett not far behind with a 22.92. “I need to improve still, and I’ve been working on that since I’ve been here. The 200 is easier for me because it’s more natural.
“If I don’t get out well, I know I can come back because of my (long) stride. There’s more time to get it done.”
As Duncan works at getting comfortable with her start, Hackett is working on her endurance and technique as she continues to make the transition from a small school to Division I competition.
“I think I’ve improved, but I still have a ways to go,” Hackett said. “In the indoor season, I didn’t run too well.
“The weekly competition was a lot tougher and I had to run much harder. But I’m running harder now and I’m really ready to compete.”