EUGENE, Ore. – The Lady Tigers are on the scoreboard at the 2015 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships after senior Tori Bliss won the bronze medal in the shot put and sophomore Rebekah Wales earned All-America honors with a fourth-place finish in the javelin to kick off the women’s competition Thursday at Oregon’s Hayward Field.
Eighth-ranked LSU wrapped up Thursday’s action in sixth place with 11 points in the overall women’s team standings with just seven of the 21 events scored at the NCAA Championships.
Bliss earned her third-straight All-America honor in the shot put as she threw a series-best of 58 feet, 6 inches on her sixth and final throw of the competition to end her career as the NCAA Outdoor Bronze Medalist in the event. Wales picked up All-America honors for the first time with her top throw of 178-0 in the third round to hang on for a fourth-place finish in the javelin final.
Their performances highlighted what proved to be an outstanding day of qualifying in semifinals as the Lady Tigers also advanced four individuals and one relay team into Saturday’s finals on the track.
Sophomore Jada Martin (200 meters), freshman Daeshon Gordon (100 hurdles) and freshman Aleia Hobbs (100 meters) all qualified for their first NCAA finals as Lady Tigers, while junior Chanice Chase also advanced to the final of the 100-meter hurdles for the first time with Gordon while qualifying for her second individual final at the NCAA Championships. The Lady Tigers also easily advanced to the final of the 4×100-meter relay for yet another season as they look to push for a top-10 team finish in Saturday’s championship finale.
“This really was a great first day for our women’s team here at these championships,” said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “Like we saw with the men yesterday, we asked a lot of these women to come prepared for a tough day of qualifying with many having to run two or three races in a matter of hours. I thought they responded very well and put themselves in a great position going into Saturday.”
Bliss capped a historic collegiate career with the Lady Tigers on Thursday afternoon when she bagged the bronze medal as an All-American for the third time in as many appearances at the NCAA Championships.
The NCAA Silver Medalist outdoors in 2014 and indoors 2015, Bliss was the first to put the Lady Tigers on the scoreboard at this year’s championship when she ended the competition with her best throw of the day in a third-place finish. Stepping into the ring for the final time in fourth place, Bliss actually moved into second overall with her series-best of 58-6 on her final throw as a Lady Tiger.
Southern Illinois freshman Raven Saunders completed her NCAA title sweep in 2015 when she uncorked a winning throw of 60-2 ½ on her final attempt to move from fourth place and into the lead where she kept her advantage with just two throwers remaining. Wisconsin’s Kelsey Card scored the silver medal with a throw of 58-11 ¼, while Kansas State’s Dani Winters followed Bliss in fourth place at 57-10 ½ on the day.
Bliss was also followed in the event by Oregon’s Brittany Mann (56-6) in fifth, Iowa State’s Christina Hillman (56-2 ¾) in sixth, Missouri’s Jill Rushin (56-0) in seventh and Akron’s Alexis Cooks (55-1) in eighth.
A native of Portage, Indiana, Bliss put the finishing touches on the final chapter of the most storied career for a Lady Tiger shot putter as she will walk away as the school-record holder both indoors and outdoors with a pair of career-bests of 60-7 ¼ and 60-8, respectively. Hers are marks the rank No. 8 indoors and No. 9 outdoors in collegiate history on the NCAA’s all-time performance list in the women’s shot put.
Just as Bliss was scoring another medal-winning performance in the shot put at the NCAA Championships, Wales was wrapping up an All-American finish of her own as she added five points for the Lady Tigers with her fourth-place finish in the javelin to become LSU’s first All-American in the event in 27 years since Cheryl Coker in 1988.
Sitting in ninth place in the competition going into the third round of throws with a best of 163-5 on her second attempt, Wales let loose a throw of 178-0 on her final attempt of the qualifying round to vault herself into third place in the overall standings and secure her spot in the nine-person national final for the first time in her collegiate career with the Lady Tigers.
It was the second-best throw of her career, trailing only her personal best of 179-11 in a runner-up finish at the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds to punch her ticket to Eugene for the second time.
Wales managed a best of 168-2 in the final on her final throw of the day to take fourth place in the final standings as she followed Virginia Tech’s Irena Sediva (192-9), Texas Tech’s Hannah Carson (189-4) and Oklahoma Elizabeth Herrs (185-1) in the event. Herrs overtook Wales for the bronze medal when she unleashed her best of the day at 185-1 in the sixth round for third place in the competition.
Rounding out the eight scorers in the Thursday’s javelin finals were Georgia’s Freya Jones (177-6) in fifth place, Minnesota’s Nicolle Murphy (175-9) in sixth place, Wake Forest’s Jessie Merckle (174-10) in seventh place and Florida’s Fawn Miller (172-9) in eight place. Texas A&M’s Maggie Malone just missed a scoring place as she threw a best of 170-6 for ninth place in the nine-person final.
Senior Annie Simoneaux joined Wales in Thursday’s javelin competition as she finished one spot short of the final with a series-best throw of 163-6 in the third round to earn a career-best 10th-place finish nationally.
“We had our first opportunities to score points today, and Tori and Rebekah both took advantage of their chances to get our teams off to a great start here in Eugene,” Shaver said. “They highlighted what was really an outstanding day for our women’s team. We have a lot of youth here at this meet, but they’ve given themselves a chance for a great finish to the season.”
Just like the Tigers did on Wednesday, the Lady Tigers fired out of the blocks in their opening semifinal race on Thursday afternoon as they cruised into the national final of the women’s 4×100-meter relay.
While lining up in the first of three semifinal heats, the Lady Tigers crossed the finish line first in 43.32 seconds as their foursome of sophomore Rushell Harvey, Hobbs, Martin and freshman Mikiah Brisco outlasted the Oregon Ducks in the runner-up position in 43.49 to claim the two automatic qualifying spots in the race.
The Lady Tigers, who have been crowned the NCAA Champions in the 4×100-meter relay a total of 13 times in meet history, will run for All-America honors in the event once again as they line up alongside heat winners Texas A&M (43.00) and Florida (43.30) and other four other finalists including Texas (43.12), Southern California (43.62), Ole Miss (44.10) and Purdue (44.20).
Hobbs carried that momentum into the semifinals of the 100-meter dash as she took her mark in the first heat and raced to the finish line with a new personal best to earn a lane in her first career national final.
Running in the same heat as Oregon’s NCAA leader Jenna Prandini, Hobbs exploded out of the blocks with a quick start and rode the shoulder of the Oregon favorite through the finish line with a personal-best time of 11.13 (+2.0) for second place in the race and the sixth-fastest time of the day. Prandini took the tape in 11.03 for the third-fastest time among the eight semifinal qualifiers in the 100 meters.
Saturday’s 100-meter final will also feature a loaded field that includes title contenders such as Texas’ Morolake Akinosun (10.96w), Kentucky’s Dezerea Bryant (10.99w), Texas A&M’s Aaliyah Brown (11.08), Kentucky’s Keilah Tyson (11.09), Texas A&M’s Jennifer Madu (11.16) and Southern California’s Ky Westbrook (11.17).
“I knew running this race I had to get out, and once I got out, I had to finish strong,” Hobbs said of her mindset entering the race. “I feel like it was one of my best (starts). I had to PR just to make it to the final, and I did that. It’s a tough event, and that was the only way I was getting in (the final). I’ve felt good in training, and just felt good running the race.
Hobbs bounced back to make her first career NCAA final to highlight her outdoor season after seeing her indoor season cut short due to a groin injury that limited her at the SEC and NCAA Championships.
“Coming to this championship for outdoor, I just felt like I had to make the final. Indoor, it hurt so bad,” Hobbs shared of her disappointment of not being able to compete for the NCAA Indoor Championships in March. “I was just so excited to run for LSU, and then I got the injury. Outdoor, I was just like, ‘Now is my chance.’ I got another chance and had to go out there and make the final.”
Brisco also lined up in the NCAA semifinals of the 100-meter dash for the first time in her collegiate career and turned in a career-best wind-aided time of 11.24 (+3.0) for fourth place in the second heat that stood for a finish of 11th place among the 24 semifinalists in the field. Westbrook grabbed final spot into the final on time with her wind-legal 11.17 in the third heat.
Hobbs was not the only Lady Tiger freshman to qualify for an NCAA final in her debut appearance at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championship as Gordon even gave herself the opportunity to line up and compete for All-America honors in the women’s 100-meter hurdles with a career-best performance of her own.
Also lining up in the same heat as an NCAA leader in the form of Kentucky’s Kendra Harrison, Gordon grabbed second spot with her fastest wind-aided run as a Lady Tiger as she crossed the finish line in 13.04 (+2.7) for an automatic berth into the sprint hurdle final. Harrison, the second-fastest hurdler worldwide in 2015 behind LSU alumnae Jasmin Stowers, cruised to an easy win in the heat with a windy 12.59.
Chase followed with a qualifying performance of her own in the third semifinal heat as she matched Gordon’s wind-aided effort of 13.04 (+3.3) to finish runner-up to Florida’s Bridgette Owens at 12.71w.
Gordon and Chase will both look to score big points for the Lady Tigers during Saturday’s championships finale as they will also be joined by Notre Dame’s Jade Barber (12.70w), Michigan’s Cindy Ofili (12.81w), Purdue’s Devynne Charlton (12.87w) and Southern California’s Dior Hall (12.95w) in what should be a fast final in the women’s 100-meter hurdles.
Not only did Gordon run her fastest time under all conditions in the sprint hurdles, but she also nearly earned a lane in the final of the 400-meter hurdles in her NCAA Championship debut while running a personal best of 57.24 to take fifth in the second heat and 10th place overall in the semifinal round. Chase followed in 14th place overall in the semifinals of the 400 hurdles with her run of 57.86.
Perhaps inspired by her teammates, Martin also earned the right to compete in an NCAA final for the first time in her collegiate career when she sprinted to the finish line in a personal-best time of 22.76 (+1.8) to claim an automatic berth with a second-place finish in the second semifinal heat. Florida’s Kyra Jefferson proved to be the class of the field with the fastest time of the day at 22.26 (+1.8) to win the race.
Martin smashed her previous best of 22.96 set in the quarterfinal round at the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds in Jacksonville, Florida, almost two weeks ago to join other national finalists in Texas A&M’s Kamaria Brown (22.29w), Kentucky’s Bryant (22.38w), Oregon’s Prandini (22.46w), Texas’ Akinosun (22.54w), Texas Tech’s Cierra White (22.65w) and Texas A&M’s Brown (22.66w).
With Gordon running leadoff, Martin running the second leg and Chanice running anchor, they teamed with sophomore Travia Jones in clocking 3:34.78 in their final race of the day as they took third place in the second heat and ninth place overall in the semifinal round of the women’s 4×400-meter relay while finishing just one spot short of qualifying for the final on time.
Also running in the national semifinals for the first time in her career was sophomore Morgan Schuetz, who was the fastest non-qualifier in the women’s 800 meters with a time of 2:04.82 for ninth place overall.
“This might be a very young women’s team we have competing at these NCAA Championships, but they have performed like experienced veterans in how they’ve gone about their business this week,” Shaver said on the performance of his youthful Lady Tigers. “I couldn’t be more proud of a group of athletes in how far they have come this season, but there is still so much left to accomplish this weekend.”
Friday marks the finale of the 2015 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championship for the men’s competition as the Tigers will line up with seven finalists on the track with five individuals and two relays along with the NCAA’s leading discus thrower Rodney Brown as they look to challenge for a trophy finish at this year’s meet.