JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — After hobbling off the track with a sore Achilles’ tendon Friday night, Northwestern State sprinter Justin Walker had just 20 hours to get ready for the final day of the NCAA East preliminary rounds.
With one berth in the NCAA championships next month already locked up in the 100 meters, an ailing Walker was looking for more in the 4x100-meter relay and 200.
While it didn’t work out for the Demons in the 4x100 with a time of 40.15 seconds and seventh-place finish in their heat, Walker was back on the track 90 minutes later for the 200.
Firing out of the blocks with confidence, the Slidell native built a big lead coming off the curve and cruised to a win in 20.58 seconds. That was just off his season’s-best of 20.47 and turned out to be the fourth-fastest time of the 12 qualifiers who advanced to the nationals.
“The coaches just told me to block everything out and run like it was mine to lose,” said Walker, who changed the foot he pushed out of the blocks with to compensate for the injury. “Basically, that’s what I did.
“I sure felt it afterward,” he said, trying to manage a smile. “I still couldn’t drive out the way I wanted to, and it hindered me a little. But changing my push-off foot takes some of the pressure off it.”
Walker was one of five qualifiers for nationals from state schools other than LSU on Saturday.
Louisiana-Lafayette pole vaulter Michael Vani, a senior from Merritt Island, Florida, tied for first place in the pole vault with a season’s-best mark of 17 feet, 5½ inches.
Vani, whose previous best this season was 17-1½ at the South Alabama Invitational, tied Ole Miss All-American Sam Kendricks when both cleared five bars with no misses. Vani was the Sun Belt Conference champion with a clearance of 16-81/4.
Louisiana Tech had three national qualifiers Saturday as Kim Francis advanced in the women’s 100-meter hurdles and Trey Hadnot earned a spot in the men’s 200 along with Walker.
Francis finished fourth in her heat in 13.04 seconds, while Hadnot was also fourth in 20.79 seconds.
Hadnot also ran a leg on the 4x100 relay team that finished fourth in its heat at 39.60 and advanced with the ninth-fastest time of the day.
Hadnot was joined by Devin Henderson, Dennis Richardson and Jarvis Gotch, who qualified for nationals in the long jump Thursday.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.