BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Stefan Brits made his final NCAA Indoor Championship appearance a memorable one, landing a career-best, third-place finish in the long jump Friday night at the Birmingham CrossPlex.
The fifth-year Seminole, a doctoral candidate in chemistry, grabbed the lead with a third-round mark of 7.73 meters (25-4.50) and held it into the sixth and final round of jumps. Three jumps away from a national title, Brits was unable to match closing leaps by Arkansas’ Jarrion Lawson (7.95m) and NC State’s Jonathan Addison (7.93), narrowly fouling his final attempt.
“Stefan was simply fearless today,” FSU coach Bob Braman said. “Couldn’t be prouder of him – he led the competition through 70 of the 75 jumps. It took twp world class jumpers on their final attempts to beat him. What an amazing comeback for that young man. I’ve never known an athlete to emerge from the number and severity of injures that he has. Simply incredible.”
Brits’ performance, good for first-team All-American honors, was the highlight of the meet for the Seminoles.
“I will take it,” Brits said, after improving three spots on his previous best NCAA Indoor Championship appearance. “I’m definitely excited, but I’m also a little disappointed in myself, having three no-jumps in the last three jumps. I’ve been here before. I should have concentrated a little more.”
A sixth-place finisher at the 2013 NCAA Indoor Championships, Brits missed 16 months of competition between the 20014 and 2015 seasons due to injuries which required surgery. After making the NCAA Outdoor Championships last year, Brits was able to put the longest sustained training period of his FSU career together coming into the indoor season.
After suffering a mild setback midway through the year he rallied to register a career-best indoor jump of 7.82 at the ACC Championships for second place to Addison, which qualified him for the NCAA meet.
“Coming from where we’re coming from, to jump consistently 7.70-7.80, and to do it at the meet where it counts, I’m proud of myself,” said Brits, who confessed that he has not been able to jump in practice since the first of February.
“I’m proud of my mentality and working through the mental struggle and keeping positive; believing there is a higher power coming from above that has his hands around me and his will will be done…With the work that we’ve done and to still jump that, I’m looking forward to outdoor season bigger than ever.”
Senior Der’Renae Freeman finished 10th in the women’s long jump, missing the finals on a tie-breaking second-best attempt after recording a mark of 6.23m (20-5.25). Sophomore Jogaile Petrokaite finished 11th (6.19m/20-3.75).
“Der’Renae lost the tiebreaker to make the finals and I know it broke her heart,” Braman said. “She always jumps big in the finals. JoJo did a solid job in her NCAA indoor debut. She was only two spots out of the finals.”
Graduate student Meme Jean, the fifth seed in the 60-meter hurdles, led her semifinal heat through the first three hurdles, but clipped the fourth and finished fourth in 8.15 seconds. That time was not quick enough to get the transfer from Charleston Southern to the final as she finished 11th in the field.
“Meme has had an amazing season but at this level it only takes on hit hurdle to lose the four-hundredths [of a second] it takes to get to the final,” Braman said. “I’m proud of the wonderful season she’s put together. ACC champion and second-team All-American is pretty special.”
Sasha-Ann Lebert, another graduate student transfer, was unable to maintain her season-long momentum in the weight throw. Lebert was 16th with a best effort of 17.86m (58-7.25).
“Sasha has had an incredible year,” Braman said. “She’s improved her previous best by over three meters. She just needs more experience at the NCAA meet. This will be a great springboard for her for outdoor track.”
Jake Burton and Chelsea Jarvis, the Seminoles’ qualifiers in the 800, also failed to advance from their respective semifinal heats. Burton, coming off a school record at the ACC Championships, ran 1:49.81 to place seventh in his heat and 14thoverall. Jarvis, who also set the school record this season, ran 2:08.29 to place 15th overall in the field.
I felt bad for our 800-meter kids,” said Braman. “Jake and Chelsea carried the load for our distance crew at ACC’s. They gave it their all but they both were tired from the long season.”
It wasn’t the kind of night the Seminoles had hoped for from a group which included five first-time individual event NCAA Indoor Championship qualifiers. Still, the Noles came away with six, second-team All-American honors to go along with Brits’ bronze.
“Overall we overachieved this indoor season,” Braman said. “The young kids stepped up and reached new heights. We had the most individual qualifiers of any school in the ACC. Now we need to take the next step and put those big points on the board.”