FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — It’s not a stretch to say that LSU sprinter Aaron Ernest had a rollercoaster day at the Southeastern Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships on Saturday.
In a three-hour span, Ernest went from nearly missing the final of the 60 meters by a whisker to running the fastest time in the world this year in the 200 prelims at Randal Tyson Track Center.
First, Ernest had to wait a little more than five minutes to find out that he earned the eighth and final spot for Sunday’s final in the 60, which he did by two-thousandths of a second over Texas A&M’s Ameer Webb after both were timed in 6.70 seconds.
There were no such dramatics in the 200 prelims, however, as Ernest, a sophomore, blasted out a time of 22.59 seconds to easily get into his second final to be held on the final day of the meet.
Also in both sprint finals will be Lady Tigers’ All-American Kimberlyn Duncan, who clocked in at 7.34 seconds in the 60 before posting a personal-best time of 22.71 in the 200 — the second-fastest time in the world this year.
They produced some of the top highlights for LSU on Saturday along with Damar Forbes, who placed second in the long jump after becoming the first collegian to leap eight meters (26 feet, 3 inches) this season in the prelims.
The top-ranked Lady Tigers earned six spots in prelims on the track, while the 16th-ranked Tigers picked up four spots for Sunday to go with entrants in the field events and relays with 12 finals to be contested on each side.
Arkansas leads both teams races going into the meet’s final day. The men, who were huge pre-meet favorites, have 52 points and a big lead over Florida (34), while the women have 37 points — nine more than Georgia.
The LSU women are fifth with 131/2 points, while the men are eighth with 10 points.
“Both teams competed hard today, and that’s all that we can ask them to do,” LSU coach Dennis Shaver said. “Overall, we’re pretty happy with the way things went today because in a meet like this something can always go wrong. They did a good job.”
Especially Ernest and Duncan.
After surviving in the 60, Ernest then had to line up next to Webb, the reigning NCAA indoor champion in the 200. Not intimidated, Ernest shot out to a quick lead and then led him to the finish line in 20.59 seconds with Webb taking second in 20.78.
“When I looked at the heats (for the 200), I saw the defending national champion was going to be inside me,” said Ernest, who knew that meant he wouldn’t see Webb because of the stagger at the start. “I knew I had to run fast to get out there and have a chance to win the heat. If I ran a 20.7 or 20.8, I thought I would be fine.”
He did much better than that, and so did Duncan in the 200 after a poor start in the 60 produced a time of 7.34 seconds — nearly two-tenths of a second slower than her season’s best of 7.16.
The two-time NCAA indoor 200 champion had a better start in that race, however, and got around the track easily to establish herself as the one to beat.
“The first race was pretty frustrating, so I just had to get over it,” Duncan said. “My start in the 60 was not as good as it should have been. I almost tripped coming out of the blocks, so the 200 was better.
“But I can still do better,” she said after shaving one-hundredth off her old PR.
Forbes didn’t get a PR Saturday, but he put out a big jump of 26 feet, 53/4 inches on his second attempt before Florida’s Marquis Dendy responded with a SEC meet-record 27-1 to take the lead and eventually the title.
“He was the better person today,” said Forbes, who now has four SEC runner-up finishes in the long jump. “You compete and you have to accept the fact that stuff like that happens, so you have to roll with the punches and get ready for nationals.”
Fitzroy Dunkley got the Tigers’ other points on a seventh-place finish in the high jump (6-8), while the Lady Tigers’ Tori Bliss and Keri Emanuel were fifth in the shot put (52-11) and long jump (20-13/4), respectively.
Laura Carelton took seventh in the 3,000 meters (9 minutes, 22.04 seconds) and Lacey Sanchez tied for eighth in the pole vault (12-71/2).
The Lady Tigers’ other qualifiers for Sunday’s finals were Jasmin Stowers (8.20) and Shanekia Hall (8.31) in the 60 hurdles and Charlene Lipsey (2:07.41) and Natoya Goule (2:07.83) in the 800.
Other men’s qualifiers were Joshua Thompson in the 60 hurdles (7.89) and Caleb Williams in the 400 (46.73).