JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Just as they did two weeks ago at the Southeastern Conference championships, the LSU track and field teams made the most of the first day of qualifying at the NCAA East preliminary rounds Thursday.
The Lady Tigers picked up their first qualifier for the NCAA championships when Rebekah Wales was sixth in the javelin in the first event contested Thursday at the University of North Florida.
But the eighth-ranked Lady Tigers and second-ranked Tigers, as expected, made a lot more noise on the track.
The Lady Tigers advanced 10 individuals in four events to Friday’s quarterfinals with berths to nationals on the line, while the Tigers had seven athletes move on in three events.
The LSU women had four athletes each advance in the 400-meter hurdles and 100 meters and one each in the 400 and 800; the men got three each through in the 100 and 400 and an additional quartfinalist in the 800.
Chanice Chase led the way in the 400 hurdles, winning her heat with a personal-record time of 55.47 seconds. While it was the fastest time of the day, she shaved nearly three-tenths of a second off her old PR of 55.76.
Running in the same heat, teammate Kymber Payne finished with the second-fastest time when she followed Chase to the line with a 56.86, while Ka’Lynn Jupiter (57.97) and Bryiana Richardson (58.22) also advanced.
Two hours later, the Lady Tigers advanced four more in the 100.
Kortnei Johnson, a freshman, and Mikiah Brisco both won their heats with times of 11.29 and 11.34 seconds with Johnson equaling her PR. Aleia Hobbs and Rushell Harvey also automatically advanced in taking second in their heats at 11.34 and 11.43 seconds, respectively.
With Johnson, Hobbs and Brisco going 2-3-4, the Lady Tigers posted four of the top eight times in the first round.
Later, Morgan Schuetz raced to a win in her first-round heat of the 800 meters in 2 minutes, 05.32 seconds and Travia Jones got into the 400 quarters on time with a 53.08.
Wales, however, was the first LSU athlete to earn her spot in Eugene, Oregon, when she had a throw of 161 feet, 6 inches to easily qualify.
“I was just trying to make it through … just make it through,” said Wales, who had a PR of 180-7 at the SEC championships. “Especially in the throws, it doesn’t matter how you get in. If you get 12th, you’re in.”
She survived despite an upper back problem, which she’s been fighting for a month, and a stiff 15 mph crosswind/headwind.
“It was bad, really bad … it was a cross/headwind actually,” Wales said. “If you threw it straight up, it was coming right back down. So you really had to line-drive it into the wind.”
As a result, four of the top 10 throwers in the East coming in didn’t make it to nationals. But Wales, a junior, survived to make it for the third year in a row.
“A lot of people who should have made it didn’t make it through,” she said. “It (the wind) was killing people’s throws. So I’m definitely happy to make it through … I can’t complain.”
On the men’s side, Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake won his heat in the 100 in 10.29 seconds, the third-fastest time of the first round, while Tinashe Mutanga and Tremayne Acy were second and third in their heats at 10.42 and 10.43.
In the 400, Michael Cherry and Fitroy Dunkley were heat-winners in 46.00 and 46.08 seconds and LaMar Bruton also advanced on time with a 46.47.
Blair Henderson capped the first day’s efforts with a third-place finish in his heat of the 800 in 1:48.84.
“We’ve done about all we can do today from a qualifying standpoint to set up the rest of the weekend for our teams,” LSU coach Dennis Shaver said. “When you have 17 qualifiers get through to the next round it really says a lot about the mindset of our athletes coming here to compete.
“It’s a great day today from that standpoint, but we need to do even better (Friday) to keep it going.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.