BATON ROUGE, La. -- Perhaps still flying high from her silver-medal-winning performance at the NCAA Outdoor Championships a year ago, Lady Tiger All-American Tori Bliss kicked off her senior season by unleashing an indoor school record of 57 feet, 2 ¾ inches to win the women's shot put crown in Friday's LSU Indoor Invitational at the Carl Maddox Field House.
Bliss opened the 2015 indoor season right where she left off outdoors in 2014 by setting a school record to become the most prolific shot putter in the storied history of the Lady Tiger program.
Entering Friday's competition with a previous indoor personal best of 53-1 set during her junior season a year ago, Bliss wasted no time in raising her own indoor best with an opening mark of 54-8 ¾ in the first round to take an early lead in the event. She then improved her PR to 55-4 ¼ in the fourth round before putting back-to-back school records of 56-8 ½ in the fifth round and 57-2 ¾ in the sixth round of the final.
The Portage, Indiana, native outdistanced the field by nearly nine feet as she was followed in the competition by Southeastern Louisiana's Jermisha Frazier in the runner-up position with a throw of 48-6 ¾. Following in third place was McNeese State's RaKira Turner as the Cowgirl putter rounded out the medalists with a mark of 45-0 ¼.
By opening her senior season with a winning throw of 57-2 ¾, Bliss smashed LSU's 21-year-old indoor school record of 55-10 ½ that was previously set by former NCAA discus champion Danyel Mitchell in 1994.
"It's exciting," Bliss exclaimed when speaking with the media following the event. "Things have never really clicked that well for me indoors my whole career. I've never really had any distances like I did today. To really be throwing this far this early in the season is great. I feel like I'm in a really good place to have a lot of success into the championship season and then heading outdoors."
Bliss became the highest Lady Tiger finisher in an NCAA shot put final in team history when she broke her own outdoor school record with a lifetime-best mark of 57-4 ¼ to claim All-America honors with a second-place finish nationally in capping the 2014 outdoor season. She is now poised to make her debut appearance at the NCAA Indoor Championships in 2015 thanks to her record-breaking performance in Friday's opener.
"My goal was to try to come out here and punch my ticket early and try to get a mark that would hold up for nationals so we can keep training and working on things throughout the season," Bliss said. "This is great. I'm really pleased with the distance, and there's still a lot of work left. I'm happy to kind of pick up right where I left off outdoors last season at nationals."
Bliss led a host of Tigers and Lady Tigers opening the 2015 season in style as they accounted for 10 indoor personal bests and 17 event wins during Friday's competition at the Carl Maddox Field House.
Highlighting the action on the track was a sweep of men's and women's titles in both the 60-meter dash and 60-meter hurdles as LSU's athletes turned in some of the NCAA's top performances early in the season.
Sophomore Jada Martin opened her season by setting a new personal best of her own as she sprinted to the finish line in 7.34 seconds to take the women's 60-meter title, eclipsing her previous best of 7.36 set during her rookie season with the Lady Tigers a year ago. Aaron Ernest kicked off his senior season with an impressive sprint in the men's 60-meter dash as he claimed the crown with a season-opening run of 6.72. Earning the sweep in the men's and women's 60-meter hurdles were senior Joshua Thompson and freshman Mikiah Brisco with times of 7.94 and 8.46, respectively.
Other Tigers scoring the event titles during Friday's action at the Carl Maddox Field House were juniors Fitzroy Dunkley in the 200 meters with a time of 22.02 and Travis Pope in the 5,000 meters with a time of 14:56.74, sophomore Blair Henderson in the mile with a run of 4:19.47 and freshman Jack Wilkes with a clocking of 1:53.90 in the 800 meters in their season debuts at the LSU Indoor Invitational.
Joining the likes of Bliss, Brisco and Martin in winning event titles for the Lady Tigers were junior Shanice Hall in the high jump with a clearance of 5-8, sophomore Rushell Harvey in the 200 meters with her time of 25.09 and freshmen Keterra Harris in the 400 meters with a time of 57.66 and Jenna Walker in the 3,000 meters with a time of 10:45.63.
The Tigers and Lady Tigers later wrapped up the competition with a sweep of relay titles in both the 4x400-meter and distance medley relays. The Tigers crossed the finish line with winning times of 3:13.71 in the 4x400 relay and 10:36.60 in the distance medley relay, while the Lady Tigers completed the sweep with winning times of 3:52.51 and 11:52.63, respectively.
Despite coming up just short in their bid to add their names to LSU's list of event champions, middle distance standouts Morgan Schuetz and Andria Aguilar smashed indoor PRs in a pair of runner-up finishes.
Schuetz lined up in the first final of the afternoon in the women's mile with a personal best of 4:56.19 that she set as a freshman a season ago and eclipsed that mark by nearly 10 seconds with a time of 4:46.45 to finish runner-up to former Lady Tiger All-American Charlene Lipsey (4:46.29) in the race. Schuetz's time converts to 4:43.64 on a banked track for the No. 6-ranked performance in the mile in school history.
Aguilar followed with a runner-up finish of her own as she set a new indoor PR in the 800 meters by nearly four seconds when she crossed the finish line in 2:08.91 to finish just a split-second behind Shaniqua McGinnis (2:08.87). Aguilar's effort converts to an impressive 2:07.44 on a banked track when used for NCAA qualifying.
Other Lady Tigers setting personal bests in their opener were junior Shanice Holmes with a mark of 36-9 in the triple jump and sophomore Danielle Avery alongside Aguilar with a time of 2:14.59 in the 800 meters.
Two LSU athletes cracked the school's all-time Top 10 performance list in the weight throw with their efforts in the meet's opening events. Senior Rodney Brown unleashed a two-foot personal best of 63-9 to finish up the day as the top Tiger in the men's final and tie senior teammate Jeremy Tuttle for the No. 8 spot on the school's all-time indoor list, while freshman Gabby Figueroa posted a series-best mark of 55-1 in her collegiate debut to finish as the top Lady Tiger in fourth place and crack the Top 10 of the women's all-time indoor list in the No. 10 spot.
Collins joined Brown in setting a personal best in his season opener in the men's weight throw as he threw 60-4 ½ for seventh place in the final standings. Senior Bryan Mutell added a personal record of his own for the evening when he clocked a banked-track-converted time of 16:03.57 for eighth place in the men's 5,000 meters.
"It's a great start to the season for both our teams," said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver of Friday's LSU Indoor Invitational. "We didn't do too much as a team, but were still able to get a few things done that will give us a good platform to move forward when we head to Birmingham next week. We'll be looking to do a little more each time out as we get ready for those championship meets."
Following a successful start to the 2015 season at the LSU Indoor Invitational on Friday night, the Tigers and Lady Tigers will go on the road for the first time next weekend when they make an annual trip to Birmingham, Alabama, to compete as part of a strong early-season field at the Auburn Indoor Invitational being held on Saturday, Jan. 17, at the Birmingham Crossplex.