Norwood to compete in national semis today

Vernon Norwood
(Submitted Photo/Courtesy of LSU Sports Information)

LSU track and field standout and Morgan City High School alum Vernon Norwood predicted Tuesday afternoon that he would have trouble sleeping Tuesday night because he is excited about what lies ahead.
Whether that prediction proved true or not, Norwood has reason to be exited as today he will begin competition for what he hopes will end in national championship performances in the 400-meter run and as a member of LSU's 4x400 meter relay at the NCAA Division 1 Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore.
Norwood will begin competition in the 400-meter run today when he competes at 7 p.m. in the second of three heats.
He also will be competing with teammates Cyril Grayson, Quincy Downing and Darrell Bush in the 4x400-meter relay. The semifinals in that race will be held at 8:20 p.m. Thursday.
While he has had a successful season, Norwood, who entered LSU last fall as a six-time junior college All-American following his two-year stay at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas, said he wasn’t surprised he made it to nationals.
“It’s just what I’ve been preparing for (since) week 1,” he said Tuesday back at his hotel in Eugene following practice.
LSU head track and field coach Dennis Shaver said this weekend is something that has been anxiously awaited.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity that he’s created for himself here to be able to compete and run,” Shaver said Tuesday.
Norwood enters the 400 with a time of 45.17, a personal record that he recorded at both the Southeastern Conference Championships and the NCAA East Preliminary Round at the end of May in Jacksonville, Fla.
His 400-meter time is seeded second behind Brycen Spratling of Pittsburgh, who topped him with a mark of 45.09 at the East Preliminary.
Norwood entered the outdoor season after placing second in the NCAA Division 1 Indoor Track and Field Championships behind Texas A&M’s Deon Lendore. Lendore, while seeded fourth entering today's outdoor semifinals, won the indoor title in 45.21. Lendore also was the outdoor runner up a year ago as a sophomore with a time of 44.94.
In the 4x400-meter relay, the Tigers’ time of 3:02.64 seeds them second behind SEC foe Texas A&M, who enters the semifinals with a mark of 3:01.42.
“He’s been a real significant factor obviously in our success with the 4x4 relay also,” Shaver said of Norwood, who has anchored the Tigers’ relay.
Among the entrants in the 4x400-meter run is defending champion Florida, who is seeded fourth but has clocked in a time of 2:59.73 this season.
LSU’s outdoor 4x400-meter relay also won the indoor national title earlier this year. In that race, Texas A&M and Florida, two of the better entrants, were disqualified during the race.
In both the 400 and 4x400, 24 entrants from the NCAA East and West Preliminary Rounds will be whittled to eight finalists. The top two finishers from each of the three semifinal heats will advance to the finals as well as the next two best competitors, regardless of heat.
“That’s a pretty significant cut when you’re making that big of a cut. … (Wednesday’s) the big race, but it’s also just not about being in the top two in your heat (Wednesday),” Shaver said. “I think the real challenge is to try to do the best you can to win your heat because that’s going to give you a much preferred lane then when you run in the final. While I’ve seen this race won out of all the different lanes on the track, certainly it helps when you’re kind of in the middle of the track and you kind of got a feel for the pace that everybody else is setting in the race when you get to that final.”
Norwood’s high school track and field coach at Morgan City High, Gary Johnson, knows firsthand what it’s like to compete on the national stage as he made several trips to the NCAA championships in the triple jump during his collegiate career at the University of Arkansas, with multiple All-American finishes during that time. He finished second as a senior.
“It’s a great environment because No. 1, you’re among the best in the nation,” Johnson said. “That in itself, it sends an aura in the atmosphere that you don’t want to get a big head and you don’t want to think you’re all that, but you are because so many people didn’t even qualify to come to nationals.”
At this year’s outdoor championship, the SEC is well represented in the 400-meter field as one third of the competitors are from the conference. Shaver said he expects, based on rankings, possibly as many as six SEC competitors to fill the eight spots in the finals.
“When you consider that, you kinda are a little bit more maybe at ease with regards to who it is you are going to have to run against because it’s not going to be the first time you have run against them, but I think there are some advantages to competing against the guys several times and kind of getting an idea of how each individual approaches their own race,” Shaver said.
Of course, Shaver said, it comes down to what the best race strategy for the individual is.
“With Vernon, I think that over the last month or so we’ve been able to kind of figure a few things out that … he can implement in his race strategy here in Eugene,” he said.
Norwood said it is exciting to be with the quality competitors he will be competing against, beginning today.
“I don’t know if I can sleep tonight,” he said. “That’s how excited I am to compete against some of the best here.”
While he will be racing in a different part of the country this week, Norwood said the biggest adjustment has been the time change as Eugene is two hours behind what he was used to in Baton Rouge.
“It’s just something you have to adapt to,” he said, noting the Tigers arrived early this week in Eugene so they have had time to adjust.
To win in his two events, Norwood said it would take he and his teammates being aggressive but patient and also taking advantage of what opportunities are given to them.
Shaver expects Norwood will medal in the 400-meter run and the 4x400-meter relay.
“Certainly it’s an honor to be in that kind of a position that he’s put himself in, but certainly I think that he feels really good right now,” Shaver said. “His training’s gone well. I think he’s well rested and ready to go.”

By GEOFF STOUTE gstoute@daily-review.com

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