JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It took a lot longer than expected and some anxious moments, but Denise Hinton officially secured the first berth in the NCAA championships for the LSU track and field teams Thursday night.
Competing in the hammer at the NCAA East preliminary rounds, Hinton waited out a lengthy weather delay and waited even more for her final attempt of the first round to post a mark that got her into the quarterfinals.
Hinton produced a throw of 196 feet, 6 inches on her third attempt after a lightning and rain delay of 3 hours, 5 minutes to place eighth in the first round. She fouled twice in the quarters, but still finished 10th to earn one of 12 spots in the national semifinals in Eugene next month.
Until her final throw of the first round, Hinton was sitting well outside of the cut line as only the top 16 competitors advanced to the quarterfinals. But she got the one she needed most, avoiding a 39th-place finish among the 48 entrants.
Late Thursday, just before midnight local time, the Lady Tigers picked up two more qualifiers for Eugene when freshmen Nataliyah Friar and Rebekah Wales advanced.
Friar, who was ranked 32nd in the long jump in the East region coming into the meet, finished eighth with a personal record of 20-5¾ and Wales placed 11th in the javelin at 162-9.
While Hinton was scrambling to win a spot at nationals, several of her teammates easily advanced to Friday’s quarterfinals in running events — moving a step closer to securing a berth in the NCAA championships.
The Tigers and Lady Tigers got off to a solid start in the day’s first race.
Quincy Downing handily won his heat to advance in the men’s 400-meter hurdles, clocking a PR of 50.54 seconds — shaving more than a half-second off his old personal best of 51.07.
Downing was determined to make up for a poor eighth-place showing in the 400 hurdles final at the Southeastern Conference championships on May 18.
“Coming off the SECs, I was kind of disappointed in myself,” said Downing, who recorded the eighth-fastest time in school history. “I had faith in myself that I’d come back. I have the speed and endurance, so I know I can do it.
“I was a little hesitant coming over the ninth and 10th hurdles because I didn’t want to fall. I tried to stay focused and not fall, and I still came in easy and didn’t put a lot of stress on my body.”
Lady Tigers Nikita Tracey and Chanice Chase also dominated their heats in the same event to automatically advance.Tracey mounted a huge lead and coasted to the line in 56.13 seconds, which was just off her PR of 56.08, and Chase cruised to a win in 56.93 seconds.
“I just needed to get out from the start,” said Tracey. “There wasn’t a lot of competition, so I was just out there running to make it to the next round.”
Bryiana Richardson also earned an automatic berth in the quarterfinals when she was third in her heat with a PR of 58.63 seconds — easily bettering her old mark of 59.06.
LSU also had success in the men’s and women’s 100 meters and men’s 400 later in the evening as it advanced five other athletes.
Aaron Ernest ran second in his heat of the 100 in 10.43 seconds and advanced, while Vernon Norwood and Cyril Grayson advanced to the 400 quarters with times of 45.88 and 46.47, respectively. Norwood won his heat.
The Lady Tigers also got two sprinters through in the 100 as Jada Martin and Rushell Harvey advanced.
Martin, who was competing in an open event for the first time since April 12, was second in her heat with a time of 11.63 seconds and Harvey was third in the same heat at 11.74.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.