JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — When they left the Southeastern Conference championships two weeks ago, the LSU track and field teams took ample confidence with them.
With three productive days behind them, especially in the sprints, hurdles and relays, the second-ranked Tigers and eighth-ranked Lady Tigers were primed to take the first big step toward the NCAA championships.
Similarly, both teams did what they needed to do at the three-day NCAA East preliminary rounds that ended late Saturday night at the University of North Florida.
The goal in what serves as the first two rounds of nationals was to survive the first round and advance through the quarterfinals to the NCAA championships. LSU did that in securing 24 entries for the semifinals and finals to be held June 8-11 in Eugene, Oregon.
The Lady Tigers will have 14 scoring opportunities and the Tigers 10 to make runs at high team finishes after converting almost half of the 50 entrants they had at the East prelims.
“The bottom line is ... I felt that just about everybody who can score points in Eugene made it through this meet,” LSU coach Dennis Shaver said. “Some of our athletes had personal bests and didn’t get through, but they’ll contribute on the relays.
“Overall, I was pleased with the way we handled these three days. We did a real good job taking it one event and one day at a time.”
Twenty-three of LSU’s 24 entrants in the semifinals will come on the track.
The Tigers are especially well-positioned to make a run at an NCAA title with nine of their 10 semifinalists coming in races of 400 meters or less.
Eight of the 10 had times that placed in the top five at the East prelims, a group that included four firsts, a second and two thirds.
In addition to the 4x100- and 4x400-meter relay teams that had the top times, Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake had the fastest time in the 200, and Michael Cherry topped the list of qualifiers in the 400.
Mitchell-Blake, who was second in the 100, anchored the 4x100 relay, while Cherry ran the second leg on the 4x400 relay.
The other top-five qualifiers were Fitzroy Dunkley and Renard Howell, who were third in the 400 and 200, and Jordan Moore, who placed fifth in the 110-meter hurdles.
Dunkley anchored the mile relay team that includes Cyril Grayson and LaMar Bruton, who had the 10th-fastest time in the open 400. And Howell was part of the sprint relay that includes Jaron Flournoy and Tremayne Acy.
Tinashe Mutanga joined Mitchell-Blake in the 100 with the eighth-fastest time.
The Lady Tigers had eight qualifiers finish in the top five of their events.
Freshman Kortnei Johnson recorded the East’s top time in the 100 meters, had the fifth-fastest time in the 200, and was on the 4x100 relay with Mikiah Brisco, Jada Martin and Rushell Harvey that clocked the second-fastest time.
Like Johnson, Chanice Chase and Brisco qualified in three events.
Chase had three personal-bests in taking third in the 400-meter hurdles, fourth in the 100 hurdles and anchoring the 4x400 relay team that posted the fourth-fastest time with Travia Jones, Martin and Rachel Misher joining Johnson.
Brisco was third in the open 100 and sixth in the 100 hurdles.
Harvey also made it in the 100, and Martin in the 200, while Ka’Lynn Jupiter and Kymber Payne got through in the 400 hurdles and Morgan Schuetz made it in the 800.
Rebekah Wales rounded out the list in the javelin.
Shaver said he always hopes for a surprise or two, which came when Jupiter advanced in the 400 hurdles with a PR of 56.63 seconds and when Misher, who has become a key in the 4x400 and an alternate on the 4x100, almost made it in the 200 as well — missing out on the last spot by 2/100ths of a second.
“We wanted to advance and not make any mistakes,” Shaver said. “We had a couple, but nothing will impact, at all, what will happen when we get to Eugene.
“I don’t feel like we could have done anything better than what we did the last three days.”
— Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.