LSU’s top-rated track and field teams primed for run at a sweep of NCAA outdoor championships

Photo courtesy: LSU athletics

LSU’s seven-time track All-American JuVaughn Harrison has several ways he’d like to complete what could potentially be his final college track meet.

The four-time NCAA champion – having swept the high jump and long jump at the 2019 NCAA outdoor championships and 2021 NCAA indoor event – Harrison has his sights on going even higher and farther when LSU embarks on the 2021 NCAA outdoor championships at the University of Oregon’s famed Hayward Field.

“The goal is to get the team championship,” Harrison said. “It’s in the back of my head, set some records and maybe go for the collegiate record and try to do something that somebody’s never done before. First and foremost is to help my team win a national championship.”

The NCAA meet will cover four days with the men taking part on Wednesday and Friday in the semifinal round and finals with the women competing on Thursday and Saturday.

It’s been nearly two decades (2002) since LSU last brought home a men’s national outdoor title. The Tigers women’s program have waited more than a decade (2008) since last pulling off the feat.

Both the LSU men’s and women’s track teams, who enter the NCAA outdoor competition ranked No. 1, have not swept NCAA outdoor titles since pulling off the achievement in consecutive years (1989-90).

“We’re always competing to the best of our abilities,” LSU hurdles standout and 4×100 relay member Tonea Marshall said. “We’ve been hungry every meet whether it’s big or small. We became hungrier because we want that big title. We want to do it for coach (Dennis) Shaver and for everybody else.”

LSU appears to be well-equipped in its pursuit of national titles both a men’s and women’s side.

The Tigers qualified 15 athletes and bring in the top-rated times/distances in five different events led by Harrison in the high jump (7 feet, 8 ¾ inches) and long jump (27-8 ¼). Sprinter Terrance Laird is a multi-event star and two-time All-American who is No. 1 in the 100 (9.8 seconds) and second in the 200 (19.81) and runs the anchor leg on the 4×100 relay.

Noah Williams, who captured the NCAA indoor 400 meters title, has the nation’s top-ranked time (44.30) and will also run legs on both of LSU’s 4×100 and 4×400 relays. The Tigers are third nationally in the 4×400 (3:01.00) which also features Sean Burrell, Tyler Terry and Dorian Camel.

“I feel real confident how our men’s team has done all year long,” Shaver said. “They’ve been really solid performers all the way through. We have such quality depth and those big hitters up front. The guys have been executing the relays extremely well. I have no reason to think they won’t go there and march through it systematically. Take one race at a time, one day at a time.”

LSU’s men, who have been ranked No. 1 in nine of 10 weeks this spring, are projected by Track and Field News to win the meet over host Oregon, USC and Texas.

“We’re going there for a complete team effort because we’re trying to get this team title,” Williams said. “I never want to settle for anything less than first place. That’s the goal and if I do what I’ve been doing all year and run my race I know there’s nobody that can beat me. That’s the confidence I’m going into the meet with.”

LSU’s women, though, are expected to be in a hotly contested battle for the team title in a race that could very well go down to the 4×400 relay before everything’s decided.

Texas A&M is expected to ride the strength of a pair of multi-event performers to a narrow victory over USC and LSU by a miniscule margin, Track and Field News reported.

“What matters is what happens in Eugene,” LSU pole vaulter Lisa Gunnarsson, the NCAA indoor champion and No. 2 vaulter at 14-9 going into the outdoor championships. “We know what’s on paper is not who actually wins. I know we’re ranked No. 1 in both men and women. It’s not something goes through my mind.”

LSU’s women bolstered its chances at winning the NCAA outdoor title after compiling 19 entries, led by a total of five hurdlers, during the NCAA regional meet in Jacksonville, Fla.

Marshall, a five-time All-American, has the world’s second-fastest time in her specialty – the 110 hurdles (12.44 seconds) – and will also run the scratch leg on LSU’s top-ranked 4×100 relay team that also boasts Favour Ofili, Symone Mason and Thelma Davies (42.52).

Besides Marshall, Gunnarsson and its 4×100 relay which are all top-ranked entering the meet, LSU’s hopes are also centered around a deep group of hurdlers that includes Milan Young, Brittley Humphrey and Jurnee Woodward – all in the 400 hurdles – Mason in the 100 (11.03) and 200 (22.49), Ofili in the 200 (22.30) and Katy-Ann McDonald (2:01) in the 800 meters.

“People performing that well this late in the season has been a boost for the women’s team confidence about being able to go to this championship and make a run at that title,” Shaver said. “That’s what they’re planning to do.”

Shaver pointed to the high jump as a potentially key event in determine the eventual winner in the women’s competition.

It’s the one individual event in which LSU, A&M and USC all have competitors with senior Abigail O’Donoghue, a two-time All-American with the NCAA’s third-best effort of 6-2 1/4, leading the way for the Tigers.

“That’s the event that could make a big difference,” he said. “That’s going to ultimately be a big event that’s going to be a factor to the team championship.”

Shaver is also hopeful of gaining critical points from Aleah Whisby in the long jump, Emma Robbins in the hammer and his 4×400 relay team of Mason, Amber Anning and Ofili who are entered in the semifinals along with A&M and USC.

Two years ago, Harrison became the NCAA’s first male athlete to sweep the NCAA outdoor long jump and high jump. He did so again this past February at the NCAA indoor championships and is projected to do so again this week, setting the stage for a return to Hayward Field for the U.S. Olympic track and field trials for an opportunity to land a spot on this year’s Olympic team where he could possibly turn professional thereafter.

Laird is another catalyst in LSU’s national title hunt where the Penn State transfer is hoping for a sweep in the sprint double in the 100 and 200 and also anchor the Tigers’ 4×100 relay home to victory.

Hurdlers Damion Thomas and Eric Edwards are another source of strength for LSU in the 110 hurdles with Thomas bringing in the nation’s No. 2 time (13.22) followed closely by Edwards (13.45).

The Tigers also have scoring potential from Burrell who brings in a nation’s best time and eighth best in the world (48.86) in the 400 hurdles and freshman Tzuriel Pedigo (239-10) in the javelin.

Laird and Williams will be joined on the 4×100 relay team by Dylan Peebles, Akanni Hislop and Dorian Camel.

“I need to score 22 ½ points,” Laird said. “There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. Going into the meet I’m locked in as much as I think I can be.”

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William Weathers

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