JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — For someone who hasn’t always been a fast starter in javelin competitions, especially earlier this season, LSU’s Rebekah Wales has picked things up lately.
Wales won the title at the Southeastern Conference championships on her first throw two weeks ago and duplicated that feat Thursday afternoon in the NCAA East preliminary rounds, throwing 179 feet, 11 inches to lead the 12 athletes who punched their tickets to the national semifinals next month.
Wales was one of two LSU athletes to qualify in the javelin, joining teammate Annie Simoneaux, and shot putter Tori Bliss made it as well to give the eighth-ranked Lady Tigers their first three entrants for the NCAA championships.
The Lady Tigers and third-ranked Tigers also had productive days on the track on the first day of the three-day meet.
LSU advanced 15 athletes — eight men and seven women — in four running events to Friday’s quarterfinals, where they’ll try to earn spots in the NCAA championships in Eugene, Oregon.
Wales certainly had no trouble getting through.
In fact, she needed just one throw to advance, and, seeing she was safely in the top 12, passed on her final two attempts. In a rules change, competitors had only three attempts instead to make their mark this year instead of six.
After setting a personal record of 177-1 at the SEC meet, Wales improved by 2 feet, 10 inches Thursday and moved to second place on the school’s all-time list.
Simoneaux also had a personal record of 165-6 in finishing fifth.
“I knew I had only three throws, so I had to get one right off the bat,” Wales said. “I knew if I did, my nerves would calm down. I had my best throw at the Texas Relays last, and I’ve always been kind of a last-throw person.”
Wales admitted her goal was to hit the 180-foot mark, but wasn’t terribly upset to come up just an inch shy.
“I’ll hit it,” she said with a smile. “When I saw (the implement) land, it didn’t look that far to me. But I guess it was and I was like, ‘Whoa.’ ”
Bliss also made a big splash early, taking first in the shot on her first attempt.
The reigning NCAA runner-up in the indoor and outdoor shot put, Bliss began the quest for her first career title with a throw of 57-9¾. While that was nearly 3 feet off her nation’s-best mark of 60-8, it was all about advancing.
“This meet has the potential to mess with people’s heads because you’re trying not to mess up instead of competing,” Bliss said. “I always planned to come out and try to get the qualifying mark on the first throw so I could relax.”
Wales, Simoneaux and Bliss combined to give LSU the best start possible, considering what they did before the first running event.
“It was big to get those two young ladies through in the javelin with personal bests,” LSU coach Dennis Shaver. “Rebekah had PRs on her first throw in the last two meets, so she’s throwing with a lot of confidence. And it was good to see Tori do what she did today.”
On the track, LSU set the table well with Quincy Downing leading a group of eight men who advanced to the quarterfinals with the fastest time of the day in the 400-meter hurdles at 50.35 seconds.
Later, Tremayne Acy and Aaron Ernest both won their preliminary heats in the 100 meters with times of 10.24 and 10.32. Acy’s time was the third-fastest of the day, while Ernest was seventh.
In the 400, Vernon Norwood and Fitzroy Dunkley won their heats in 46.03 and 46.53 seconds, while Cyril Grayson clocked a 46.99 to advance as well. Also, Julian Parker (1 minute, 48.48 seconds) and Blair Henderson (1:48.78) were third in their heats of the 800 to advance.
The Lady Tigers had three get through in the 100 meters and 400 hurdles.
Freshmen Aleia Hobbs (11.43) and Mikiah Brisco (11.44) went 1-2 in their heat, while Rushell Harvey (11.66) also advanced in the 100.
In the 400 hurdles, Chanice Chase (57.52), Daeshon Gordon (58.54) and Kymber Payne (59.19) made it through, while Morgan Schuetz won her 800 meters heat (2:05.32).
“I think we advanced the people today that can score in Eugene,” Shaver said. “Really, it was kind of the way we scripted it. The best part of it is we’re at the point where we didn’t beat ourselves today, and that’s the key.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.