Thomas, Henning Set Meet Records in NYC

NEW YORK -- LSU junior LaTavia Thomas made the most of her first 800-meter race of the 2009 season during Saturday’s action at the New Balance Collegiate Invitational as she broke her own meet record with an NCAA-leading time of 2 minutes, 4.54 seconds at the historic Armory Track and Field Center.

While lining up in the second of two championship sections of the women’s 800 meters, Thomas blew away the field to take her spot atop the NCAA rankings for 2009.

Not only that, but the reigning NCAA Indoor champion is poised to defend her crown this season as she also eclipsed her previous indoor personal best and meet record of 2:04.66 set at the New Balance Collegiate Invitational a year ago. Her time of 2:04.54 moves her past LSU great Marian Burnett into the No. 3 spot on the school’s all-time indoor performance list in the 800 meters.

With her performance, Thomas becomes the first Lady Tiger this season to qualify automatically for the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships to be held at the brand new Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium in College Station, Texas, from March 13-14.

Not only that, but Thomas ripped off a 52.66-second split on the anchor of LSU’s winning 4x400-meter relay team that clocked its first NCAA provisional qualifying time this season at 3:38.84.

Thomas was honored by the meet officials during the awards ceremony following the running of the 4x400 relays as she was named the Most Outstanding Female Performer of the meet. It is the second year in a row that a Lady Tiger has earned the award as former LSU great Kelly Baptiste was last year’s recipient after setting a meet record of 7.17 in the 60-meter dash.

“LaTavia is just an outstanding competitor, and she knows what it takes to get the job done in the big meets,” said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “She ran a great 800-meter race and was an auto qualifier for the NCAA meet. She then came back and ran an outstanding anchor leg for us on the relay. She embodies everything that it means to wear the LSU uniform and represent this team.”

LSU standout Walter Henning continued his record-setting sophomore season in the weight throw by posting a meet record of 72 feet, 8 ½ inches to become the first LSU athlete to win the event in the nine-year history of the New Balance Collegiate Invitational.

Henning, a native of nearby Kings Park, N.Y., made his triumphant return to the same circle that earned him national acclaim during his high school career at St. Anthony’s High School.

He set a new meet record in the weight throw after Kansas All-American Egor Agafonov held the previous mark at 72-7 ¼ in 2008. Henning is already the NCAA leader in the weight throw with a personal best of 73-4 ¼ set last weekend at the SEC/Big 12 Challenge in College Station.

“I’m really happy with how I threw today considering I didn’t feel too great on my first couple of throws,” Henning said. “I started feeling a little better toward the end, and I really hit one there on my fifth throw. I’ve got a couple meets left to get ready for nationals. That will be my focus going in because I want to stay consistent and be in a position to score some points for my team.

“It was really nice to come back to the same circle where I threw for so many years in high school and set a meet record. I really wanted to compete more than anything, and I think I did that.”

LSU added five individual NCAA provisional qualifiers to its postseason roster Saturday as three Tigers teamed with a pair of Lady Tigers in surpassing the provisional standard.

Junior Jamaal James and sophomore Richard Jones each recorded provisional qualifying times in the championship section of the men’s 800 meters. James was the fourth-place finisher in the event with a season-opening time of 1:49.85, while Jones placed ninth in the event with a time of 1:50.46 in his first indoor 800-meter race at the collegiate level.

Junior Josh Dominguez also enjoyed an outstanding performance in the men’s pole vault with an NCAA provisional clearance of 17-0 ¾. With his effort, Dominguez recorded a provisional mark for the first time in his career and set a new indoor personal best to rank No. 10 all-time at LSU.

Junior Samantha Henry clocked her first NCAA provisional qualifying time this season in the 200 meters as she crossed the finish line with a time of 23.61 in the event final. Henry also clocked an NCAA provisional qualifying time in the 60 meters on Friday with a time of 7.33 in the prelims.

Senior Andrea Linton also posted her first provisional qualifying mark in the triple jump this year with seasonal best effort of 42-8 ¾ to finish the event in third place.

LSU then wrapped up the meet with a pair of outstanding performances in the 4x400-meter relay. Thomas teamed with Brittany Hall, Kayann Thompson and Henry to win the event with a NCAA provisional time of 3:38.84, while Armanti Hayes, Jamar Howard, Ade Alleyne-Forte and Robert Simmons combined for an NCAA provisional time of 3:09.58 to finish second in the final event.

The Tigers finished runner-up to first-place Baylor (65) in the men’s standings by racking up 60 points for the meet. The Lady Tigers finished sixth in the women’s standings after scoring a total of 43 points over the course of two days of competition.

“I think we found out a lot more about our men’s team and what they can do,” Shaver said. “We are starting to get a pretty sizable contribution from all of the event areas, which is what we will need to succeed in the championship meets. Our men are certainly better and more consistent now than when we came here two days ago. I’m very pleased with the way they competed.

“I also think we’re starting to answer some questions with the women’s team. We still have a few people to have to step it up if they want to contribute, but I also think we had great individual performances this weekend. This is another step in the right direction for both our teams.”

The Tigers and Lady Tigers will be back in action next weekend as they make their annual trip to Fayetteville, Ark., to compete in the Tyson Invitational at the Randal Tyson Track Center. The two-day meet is set to kick off Friday on the campus of the University of Arkansas.