Nothing can bring back a lost 2014 indoor season for LSU All-American sprinter Aaron Ernest.
Well, almost nothing.
Ernest’s junior season was a track athlete’s worst nightmare: A hamstring injury suffered during a pre-Christmas workout and a couple of setbacks after the season began in January limited him to four races — two at 60 meters and two at 200 meters — indoors.
It was a tough pill to swallow for Ernest, who one year earlier stamped himself as one of the Southeastern Conference’s premier sprinters when he claimed the title in the 200 meters at the league’s indoor championships after finishing second as a freshman.
“In addition to not being able to help my team, I didn’t have a chance to defend my (SEC) title,” Ernest said earlier this week. “That was real hard. … It was really frustrating.”
Ernest, a New Orleans native, and LSU coach Dennis Shaver attributed his troubles to a brutally-cold winter and the fact that the Tigers and Lady Tigers had to train in the harsh conditions because the Carl Maddox Field House was under renovation.
“At the time, all I could think about was getting back this season and winning that title,” said Ernest, who tried the 200 at the SEC indoor meet last year and ran a subpar time of 21.21 seconds. “I didn’t really get a chance to defend.”
So that was the motivator for this season even though Shaver said it doesn’t take much to get the competitive Ernest going.
“A very positive aspect was having the facility back this year,” Shaver said. “Aaron worked hard to prepare himself to have a good season.”
As a result, a good indoor season can become a great one for Ernest in the NCAA indoor championships that begin a two-day run Friday in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Ernest is part of a seven-man contingent for the eighth-ranked Tigers, who’ll have six scoring chances. The 15th-ranked Lady Tigers have seven entrants in eight events, including the nation’s top shot-putter in Tori Bliss.
Ernest regained his SEC 200 meters title two weeks ago when he clocked a time of 20.69 seconds in the final, one day after posting the second-fastest time in the nation with a 20.67 in the semifinals. In doing so, Ernest defeated Texas A&M’s Shavez Hart, who posted the fastest time earlier this year at 20.57.
“It was big, very big,” Ernest said of his victory over Hart at the conference meet. “My main goal going into every year is to win an SEC title and an NCAA title. So that was a big first step for me.
“It gave me some confidence going into nationals. (Hart) is a great runner — one of the best in the NCAA and the world. But we have 16 good sprinters in this race and we’ve all beaten each other at one time or another.”
But competition is what it’s all about for Ernest.
“I don’t care if we’re playing video games or whatever, I want to beat you,” he said. “That just carries over to the track. I’m friends with all those guys, but when we start to warm up, we’re not friends any more. My goal is to beat everybody in the race.”
Of course, it’s easier to try to do that when you’re healthy.
“I’m 100 percent coming into this meet, there are no injuries or lingering pain,” he said. “To win would mean everything to me. This is what I’ve been working toward for four years. This is why I work hard every day.”