On the same day the LSU track and field program said goodbye to 13 departing seniors, the Tigers and Lady Tigers officially welcomed back All-American sprinter Aaron Ernest.
After being limited by a hamstring injury suffered in a training session in December and two setbacks that cost him most of the indoor season, Ernest fired out of the starting blocks just once in the first five outdoor meets — in the 100 meters at the LSU Alumni Gold on April 19 — while running the second leg on the 4x100-meter relay three times.
But on Saturday, he looked fit and ready for the championship portion of the Tigers’ season.
Ernest put up the third-fastest time in the world in the 200 meters this spring at 20.14 seconds, which shattered his old personal record of 20.38, while helping his team to a second-place finish in the LSU Invitational.
With Ernest winning the 200, the Tigers fared well in what was a final tune-up for the Southeastern Conference championships this month. Texas A&M won the title with 166 points, with LSU (143), Ole Miss (110), Florida (104) and Miami (28) following.
Meanwhile, LSU senior Denise Hinton made some lasting memories in her final home appearance. She twice shattered her school record in the hammer throw in leading the seventh-ranked Lady Tigers to a win with 158 points.
A&M (135), Florida (100), Miami (84) and Ole Miss (73) followed.
“I’m glad to be back,” a smiling Ernest said after his performance in the 200. “Today was the best I’ve felt all year, probably since November. I’m still only about 90 percent back, but there were no problems today.”
That’s good news for 10th-ranked LSU going forward with the return of Ernest, whose 200 time vaulted him from eighth to second on the school’s all-time list behind only Xavier Carter (20.02), and Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, who’s also been hampered by a leg injury.
Lining up against Florida’s duo of Dedric Dukes and Arman Hall, Ernest came off the curve with a lead and accelerated down the stretch to win going away.
Hall was second in 20.40, while Dukes was fourth in the heat with a 20.97.
“The plan was to be in first coming off the curve and just run through the line,” Ernest said. “That was the only chance I had to win with Dedric and Arman in there. I had to be in the lead and use my 100 speed.”
The Lady Tigers also had two big performances early in the day from Hinton and junior Tori Bliss.
Hinton unleashed a throw of 213 feet to break her school record of 209-6 she set on April 5 and bettered it with a final toss of 218-0. Bliss also broke her own school mark in the shot put with a winning throw of 56-91/4.
Hinton was inspired by a large contingent of family and friends that made the trip from her hometown of Peachtree City, Georgia, to watch her final meet in Bernie Moore Track Stadium.
“I told them at dinner Friday night that they didn’t drive 71/2 hours for nothing,” said Hinton, whose mark is the second-best in the nation this year. “I had to make the trip worth it for them, and I think I did.
“I had a great week of practice and I really felt great.”
Senior sprinter Toshika Sylvester also had a big afternoon. Even though she was fourth in the overall standings in the 200, she won her heat with a PR of 23.57 seconds just before being honored as one of the program’s 13 seniors.
Fellow senior Lynnika Pitts moved to eighth on the school’s all-time triple jump list with a second-place effort of 43-1, which was an outdoor PR.
On the men’s side, Jeremy Tuttle was the top collegian in the hammer with a PR of 216-8, which put him in fourth on the school’s all-time list, and also won the javelin at 217-3, while Rodney Brown won the discus with a 207-10 after setting the school record at 210-9 in the Penn Relays last week.
“At this time, we wanted everybody to start gaining a little more confidence in what they are doing,” LSU coach Dennis Shaver said. “I thought everybody zeroed in and did what they had to do.”