Laurent Breaks LSU Record, Posts NCAA Auto at Tyson

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Much was expected of Rachel Laurent when she signed with the LSU women’s track and field program out of Houma, La., as the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the pole vault in 2008 and the No. 2 performer in the history of high school track and field in the United States.

After all, Laurent set an overall personal best of 14 feet during the outdoor season in 2008 before finishing fourth in the vault at the 2008 IAAF World Junior Championships in Poland.

With her performance Saturday at the Tyson Invitational, she will have the opportunity to prove herself against the nation’s best pole vaulters at the collegiate level after qualifying automatically for the 2009 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships to be held March 13-14.

Laurent, who got off to a bit of a slow start in her collegiate career after not clearing 13 feet in her first three meets as a Lady Tiger, erased any doubts about her potential as she shattered the indoor school record and matched her indoor personal best with an NCAA automatic qualifying mark of 13-9 ¼ during Saturday’s competition at the Randal Tyson Track Center.

She eclipses the previous indoor school record of 13-6 ½ set by teammate Katelyn Rodrigue as a sophomore a year ago and moves into a tie for No. 6 in the NCAA this season.

Laurent and Rodrigue were actually scheduled to jump in the championship flight of the women’s pole vault on Friday afternoon, but the event was postponed to Saturday due to damage caused to the runway during the college section of the men’s competition. Meet officials elected to combine the college and championship sections of the women’s vault for a 9:30 a.m. start on Saturday.

In the end, a total of 39 vaulters competed for nearly five hours on the meet’s final day as the last vaulter did not take her last attempt until 2:07 p.m. CT.

“I felt really good jumping today,” Laurent said. “I wasn’t sure how today was going to go since I had to get here at 7:30 a.m. I’ve never had to do anything like that before. It definitely meant that there would be a lot of waiting around to take my first attempt, but I had a great warm up with my teammates and everything just fell into place for me today qualifying for NCAAs.

“I think (waiting) really made me want it even more. I felt very anxious and couldn’t wait to get out there and compete. I’ve been wanting to jump well all season, and I was able to do that today against some really good vaulters. I’m also using some new sticks that seemed to help me a lot.”

After opening the competition with a seasonal best of 12-11 ¾ set at the SEC/Big 12 Challenge in College Station, Texas, two weeks ago, Laurent easily cleared 13-3 ½ on her second attempt and 13-7 ¼ on her first attempt before placing fourth in the event with a clearance of 13-9 ¼ on her second attempt. She fouled out of the competition with the bar resting at 13-11 ¼.

She is now the second Lady Tiger this season to qualify automatically for the NCAA Indoor meet as she joins junior LaTavia Thomas, who has already punched her ticket in the 800 meters.

The Lady Tigers also added a quartet of strong NCAA provisional qualifiers to their postseason roster on Saturday afternoon as senior Kayann Thompson and sophomore Brittany Hall each had provisional times in the 800-meter run before sophomore Tenaya Jones clocked her first qualifier of the season in the consolation final of the 60-meter hurdles.

Thompson was the second-place finisher in the women’s 800 meters with a new indoor personal best and the sixth-fastest performance in school history at 2 minutes, 6.54 seconds, while Hall had an indoor personal best of her own with the ninth-fastest 800-meter performance all-time at LSU at 2:07.25 to take third. Jones was second in the 60-meter hurdles with a top time of 8.34 seconds.

In the final event of the meet, sophomore Brittani Carter improved her already established NCAA provisional qualifying mark in the high jump with an indoor personal best clearance of 5-11 ½. It improves from her previous best of 5-10 and moves her to No. 4 on LSU’s all-time list.

Junior Patrick Lee was the Tigers’ lone NCAA provisional qualifier on the final day of this year’s Tyson Invitational after setting a personal best of 7.91 to finish fourth in the men’s 60 hurdles.

Following their appearance at the Tyson Invitational this week, Tigers and Lady Tigers have now combined for four automatic qualifiers and 21 provisional qualifiers for the NCAA meet.

“I thought we came here to the Tyson Invitational this weekend and were able to get a few things accomplished with the women’s team as we continue to prepare for the championship meets,” said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “That was a great performance by Rachel today in the vault, which is something we’ve been looking forward to all year. She did a great job of competing.

“I also thought both Kayann and Brittany ran good races in the 800 meters to put themselves in a position to qualify for the NCAA meet. They may have to get a little bit faster to make sure they do have a spot in the meet, but they are certainly in the mix. I’m also happy with Tenaya’s run in the hurdles today. Our women just took a big step forward as we head into the last few weeks.”

In other action, sophomore star Walter Henning continued his domination in the 35-pound weight throw by winning the event for the fourth-straight time this season with a throw of 72-3 ¾, a mark that finished more than eight feet clear of his nearest competitor.

With his performance, Henning remains unbeaten in the weight throw this season as he currently ranks No. 2 in the NCAA this season with a seasonal-best throw of 73-4 ¼.

“While the women did well, I can’t really say the same thing about our men’s team as a whole,” Shaver said. “I was looking for continued improvement from them this week, and they simply failed to step it up as a group and be competitive. That applies to every event group. If no changes take place over the next two weeks, they will not positively represent LSU at the SEC meet.

“That will be the challenge. These next two weeks will determine a lot about the character of our team and their ability to get it done in the championship meets.”

The Tigers and Lady Tigers will return home next weekend for their final meet before the SEC Indoor Championships as they play host to the LSU Twilight Invitational at the Carl Maddox Field House on Friday. They will then head to the Nutter Fieldhouse in Lexington, Ky., for the SEC Indoor Track and Field Championships from Feb. 27-March 1.