BATON ROUGE – After combining for 14 entries into the NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships being held at Arkansas’ Randal Tyson Track Center this weekend, the LSU Track & Field teams will head to Fayetteville ranked among the nation’s top teams in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Top 25 released Monday.
The Tigers, who scored 18 points to tie for eighth place in the final men’s team standings at the NCAA Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a season ago, are the No. 8-ranked men’s team nationally yet again as they are poised for a ninth top-team team finish in 10 seasons with their six entries into the meet.
The Lady Tigers are also positioned to improve upon their tie for 12th place finish with 16 points in the final women’s team standings in 2014 as they have earned their highest national ranking in the USTFCCCA Top 25 on the season as the No. 15-ranked women’s team nationally this week. They have matched their representation from a season ago with eight entries into this year’s NCAA Indoor Championships.
The Tigers will line up as a contender to defend their NCAA Indoor national championship in the men’s 4×400-meter relay as they return all four legs from the squad that won the program’s fourth NCAA Indoor title last season in the event, including seniors Vernon Norwood and Quincy Downing and juniors Darrell Bush and Cyril Grayson as the NCAA’s No. 3-ranked relay team in 2015 with a seasonal-best time of 3:04.28.
Norwood is also back to challenge for the NCAA Indoor title in the men’s 400-meter dash after winning the silver medal a season ago as he is the No. 4-ranked qualifier in the field with a seasonal-best time of 45.56.
Downing will also line up in the 400-meter dash for the second-straight season after just missing out on a spot in the final in 2014 when he raced to a 10th-place finish in qualifying to cap his junior season indoors. For the 2015 indoor season, Downing has run his seasonal-best time of 46.27 to follow Norwood as the No. 13-ranked qualifier in the men’s 400-meter field.
Fresh off of his gold-medal-winning performance at the SEC Indoor Track & Field Championships nearly two weeks ago, senior Aaron Ernest makes his return to the NCAA Indoor Championships in the 200 meters in his final appearance indoors as an LSU Tiger. Ernest clocked the NCAA’s No. 2 time this season at 20.67 in the preliminary round before winning his second SEC Indoor title with a run of 20.69 in the final this season.
Ernest has rediscovered the All-America form he showed during his sophomore season in 2013 when he finished in sixth place nationally in the 200-meter final at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
Two Tigers will be making their debut appearances at the NCAA Indoor Championships as senior Joshua Thompson has qualified in the men’s 60-meter hurdles and sophomore Tremayne Acy joins Ernest for the men’s 200-meter dash. Thompson ranks No. 6 in the 60 hurdles with a top time of 7.73, while Acy follows Ernest at No. 9 in the field for the 200 meters with a top time of 20.85 in 2015.
While the Tigers are the defending NCAA Indoor Champions in the 4×400-meter relay, the Lady Tigers feature a national championship contender of their own in the form of the NCAA’s shot put leader Tori Bliss.
Bliss joined the 60-foot club in the shot put while being crowned the SEC Indoor Champion in the event on Feb. 27 with a SEC Indoor meet record of 60 feet, 1 inch on her very first throw of the competition. LSU’s 2014 NCAA Outdoor silver medalist is poised to earn her second career All-America honor while making her first career appearance at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
An NCAA Indoor finalist in the long jump in her debut a year ago, sophomore Nataliyah Friar is the team’s lone NCAA Championships qualifier in two events as she will appear in both the long jump and triple jump next weekend. Friar owns the No. 11-ranked mark at 20-9 ¾ in the long jump and No. 13-ranked mark at 42-6 in the triple jump in the field appearing at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
Along with Bliss, a host of youthful Lady Tigers have qualified for the NCAA Indoor Championships for the first time in their collegiate careers, including sophomore Jada Martin in the 200 meters with the No. 8 time this season at 23.30, sophomore Morgan Schuetz in the 800 meters with a time of 2:04.87 to grab the 16th and final spot in the field, freshman Daeshon Gordon in the 60-meter hurdles with a time of 8.20 for the 13th-fastest time in the country and freshmen Aleia Hobbs (7.29) and Mikiah Brisco (7.30) at No. 15 and No. 16 in the women’s 60-meter dash.