EUGENE, Ore. — With one exception, things went about as well as they could have gone for the LSU track and field teams from the start of the first day of the NCAA championships on Wednesday.
The eighth-ranked Lady Tigers quickly picked up their first points in the first final of the four-day competition and advanced two individuals and a relay team through the semifinals.
The sixth-ranked Tigers also got off to a solid start with one relay team and two individuals reaching finals as well at Hayward Field.
Denise Hinton got things going early for the Lady Tigers when she finished fifth in the hammer to match the fifth-place performance she had in the 20-pound weight throw at the NCAA indoor championships in March.
Hinton, who was in seventh place with a throw of 207 feet, 7 inches going into her final throw, unleashed a toss of 210-9 to jump into fifth place and then held on as the two athletes she passed failed to overtake her.
Already happy about earning All-America status for the first time at the NCAA outdoor meet, she relaxed and popped a solid throw on her final attempt as a collegian to pick up an additional two points for the Lady Tigers.
“I would have been good with seventh, so I just had fun with it,” Hinton said. “At that point, I realized I had nothing to lose. So I relaxed and pushed it a little, and it went farther. I just went back to the basics.
“Coach (throws coach Derek) Yush went from happy to really happy, I guess.”
That was the theme for most of the day for the Tigers and Lady Tigers, who started the track events by advancing their 4x100-meter relay teams to Saturday’s finals.
The men’s team of Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, Aaron Ernest, Tremayne Acy and Shermund Allsop got the baton around in 38.85 seconds to earn the second automatic qualifying spot in their heat. That time wound up as the third-fastest of the day behind Texas A&M (38.60) and Florida (38.77).
Minutes later, the Lady Tigers’ foursome of Jasmin Stowers, Rushell Harvey, Jada Martin and Nataliyah Friar finished second in their semifinal in 43.95 seconds to advance. Harvey, Martin and Friar are freshmen.
The Tigers qualified two individuals when Quincy Downing won his semifinal heat of the 400-meter hurdles in 50.55 seconds and Vernon Norwood took second in his heat of the open 400 by clocking a time of 45.52 seconds.
Downing, a half-miler earlier in his college career, was in fourth place at the top of the home stretch, but made up some ground over the final two hurdles and crossed the line first.
“I just knew, like I’ve been saying lately, that I have a lot of speed and endurance coming from the 800,” said Downing, whose time was just off his personal record of 50.49. “Coming down the stretch, those guys looked like they didn’t have energy left.
“So I just kept my composure and made sure to get over the last hurdle. I knew if I did those two things I could beat them … and that’s what happened.”
After Downing advanced, LSU’s Nikita Tracey and Chanice Chase both finished second in their semifinal heats to advance to Friday’s final.
Tracey clocked in at 56.44 seconds and Chase followed Kentucky’s Kendra Harrison to the finish line to finish in 57.14 seconds. Both Tracey and Chase automatically advanced to the final.
The only thing that could have made the day better for LSU was if Ernest, who was seeded 12th coming into the meet, had made it to the 100 meters final.
He was fourth in his heat and had the eighth-fastest time overall at 10.13 seconds, but didn’t get in because one of the runners who had a slower time was one of the auto qualifiers.
“What a great day for both of our teams to really jump start our week,” said LSU coach Dennis Shaver. “We really couldn’t have asked for a much better day overall. It was great to see that Denise (Hinton) got us going early on, and it just went on from there.
“We would have liked to see Aaron get through in the 100, but everybody else that we needed to get through made it through.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.