June 8, 2010
Only U.S. Olympian and transcendent Seminole sprint star Walter Dix has covered the 100 meters faster than Mitchell. On the women’s side, Pemberton has already put her name in front of the FSU greats of the 1980s – Michelle Finn, Brenda Cliette and Randy Givens – with the fastest 100 time in school history.
Fast times are one thing. Winning a national championship is something else. Mitchell and Pemberton begin their respective bids to merge the two feats Wednesday at the University of Oregon’s historic Hayward Field, home to the NCAA Track & Field Championship.
Hayward Field’s legend was built on the performances of distance stars like the late Steve Prefontaine, but it’s the sprints that hold the key to championships and notoriety.
“You’ve got to have the sprinters,” said FSU coach Bob Braman. “The sprinters have the ability to do more than one event and they advertise your program. …The TV is going to give all the exposure to the relays and the sprints. If you’re in the mix, they’ll show your other athletes if you’re in the title hunt.”
Braman’s FSU men and women are longshot contenders for the team title, but top 10 finishes – or better – are certainly within reach for a pair of teams with young sprint stars Mitchell and Pemberton as the cornerstones for future team title hunts. Individual 100-meter titles, however, are within reach for the pair who are anxious to compete in the marquee event.
“I enjoy the spotlight,” said Mitchell, whose 10.04 is tied for the fastest time in the field. “It’s kind of difficult coming from Walter Dix, because he ran 9.9. Running fast and still not (being) fast enough is kind of stressful, but it’s exciting to be able to represent Florida State in the premier sprint event.”
Mitchell has whacked five-tenths of a second off his 100 time from a year ago, when he was eliminated in the first round at nationals. This season he has produced a string of personal-bests, nearly every time he leaves the blocks.
“Every time I step on the track my time keeps dropping,” he said. “I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life. I feel like my times are going to get even faster at nationals if I stay healthy and run my race. I can run a lot faster.”
He will likely be pushed in his semifinal heat when he lines up alongside Auburn’s Marcus Rowland, who matched Mitchell’s 10.04 at the NCAA East Regional. Yet unlike a year ago, Mitchell is confident he can get through to the finals with a solid effort today.
“It feels good for me to know that I can go out there and relax in the prelim round and not have to gun it like I did last year,” he said. “I’m in shape to relax and run my race. I don’t have to push it until the finals.”
Mitchell isn’t the only Seminole sprinter whose confidence is soaring heading into the meet. Pemberton has not lost a 100-meter race this season and dropped a stunning 11.12 time in the semis at the NCAA East Regional.
Pemberton, a native of St. Kitts, set her sites on reaching the NCAA meet a long time ago.
“It wasn’t an if, but or maybe,” she said. “It was a matter of me getting up on the podium, that’s all. Once I set my mind to something, I’m going to get it. I might not get it this year. I might not get it exactly when I want to, but I’ll get it.
“This year is simply my year. I’m going to go up on that podium and hold up that gold medal.”
It’s hard to argue against Pemberton’s assertion, especially when the unbeaten youngster insists she has a faster race still in her this season; perhaps as low as 11.0.
“My body can go that fast, I just know it,” she said. “There isn’t much to explain about it. I only know because it’s my body. … I’m not trying to sound boastful, but I’ve always struggled with self-confidence before I got [to Florida State]. After winning those few races in the past this year, my confidence is boosted a lot. I feel like I can do anything right now.”
The 100 may be the marquee event of the meet, but the semifinal heats make up only a portion of the full, opening day schedule. The Florida State men will be represented today by Michael Putman (discus), Kevin Borlee (400 semifinal) and the 4×100 relay team of David Ambler, Brandon Byram, Mitchell and Brian Chibudu in the semifinals. The Seminole women will send Brittany St. Louis (400 semifinals), Pasca Cheruiyot (10,000 meters) and their 4×100 quartet of Teona Rodgers, Candyce McGrone, Amy Harris and Pemberton into battle.
Actually, the 4×100 semifinal men’s and women’s teams will be the first to the track on opening day. The two teams will compete in field of 24 for eight spots in Saturday’s finals. The top two teams from each of three heats, plus the next two fastest in the field, will advance, and neither the FSU men or women will have to look too hard to find the competition.
With a season-best time of 39.06, the men will line up in lane 6 of the second heat; two over from top-seeded rival Florida (38.81). The women, who boast a season-best of 43.13, are in a loaded second heat which includes top-seeded Texas A&M (42.49), which beat the Seminoles for the gold medal in last season’s final. The Aggies will start from lane 4, with a strong LSU quartet in lane 5, alongside the Seminoles in lane 6.
Injuries to Charles Clark and Danielle Jeffrey will make it difficult for the respective relay teams to capture gold, but getting on the medal stand and scoring is certainly within reach.
Still, if the Seminoles are to realize their full scoring potential, Braman needs Mitchell and Pemberton to come through in the 100, yet he doesn’t want to apply too much pressure to his youngsters.
“I don’t want Marecia to try and win the national (championship),” Braman said. “I want her to run with blinders on. I hope they stick her out in lane eight or lane one and forget about her, because she’s busted up some unbelievable races from absurd lanes. If she does that, she’ll run away.”
Pemberton will actually line up in lane 4 of her semifinal heat, alongside UTEP’s Blessing Okagbane, who has run 11.22.
Likewise, Braman doesn’t want Mitchell to get caught up in the competition, much as he has done throughout his breakthrough season.
“It’s been neat to see him take that next step this year after he got knocked out in the first round at both indoor and outdoor last year,” Braman said. “I’m excited for him. Maurice has become that cornerstone guy for us; that big leg on the relay in the 4×100 and he’s doing the 100 and 200. … Those are Walt-like times for Walt’s freshman and sophomore years. They’re in the same zip code anyway.”
There’s a podium finish in that “zip code” for both Mitchell and Pemberton, if they can find their way into the finals.