COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Out-performing their seeds, three Florida State athletes climbed the podium following scoring performances on the opening night of the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships Friday at Texas A&M’s Gilliam Indoor Track Center.
Senior Austin Droogsma’s fourth-place finish in the shot put led the way, joining former NCAA champion Garrett Johnson as just the second Seminole to earn first-team All-American honors in the event.
Overcoming an opening attempt foul, Droogsma’s second attempt heave of 19.87 meters (65-2.25) stood up through six rounds of competition.
“It’s huge…a dream come true,” Droogsma said, after collecting the first, first-team All-American honor of his career. “I really wish I could have got in the top three, but there’s a lot of stiff competition and I knew that it would be there. I knew that it was going to take 20.20 or 20.30 to get in that top three, and that’s what it was.
“I’m super happy with where I am right now and where we are going into the outdoor season. I don’t see any reason why we won’t be in that top three outdoors.”
Florida State’s first points of the night also came in the shot put with senior Gleneve Grange’s steady hand in the circle delivering an eighth-place finish. Grange built on a finals-qualifying opening throw of 16.63 meters, improving to 16.65 and topping out with a fifth-attempt throw of 17.00 meters (55-9.25).
Grange, FSU’s first woman to qualify in the shot put indoors, had a few anxious moments waiting out third attempts from the competition to see if she would advance to the final. Once she did, the Jamaican star kept the pressure on while delivering the women’s team their first points at the meet since 2015.
“It was a breath of fresh air, like, ‘Whoo, I can do it. I have three more throws,’” Grange said. “It is a wonderful feeling knowing that I came out here and did my best.”
While Grange was working the circle, long jumpers Kenneth Fisher and Corion Knight were toiling in the long jump pit. While Knight, the No. 3 seed, never found his rhythm on the runway and finished 13th, Fisher rose to the occasion.
A graduate transfer who made three NCAA Championships appearances as an undergrad at Bethune-Coookman, advanced to the finals for the first time in his career when he flew 7.62 meters (25-0) on his second attempt. As it turned out, that number was good enough to deliver the ACC champion an eighth-place finish.
“There was so much relief, once I realized I was in the finals,” said Fisher, whose two days of practice leading up to the competition were not overly encouraging. “All the years I’ve made it to nationals, I’ve never made it to the finals. To be able to come out and make it to the finals and actually place, it’s a blessing.”
Crediting rest the night before the competition for the revival of his legs, Fisher came through when it mattered most.
“The most important thing is you have to do it when it counts and that’s why I’m proud of myself,” he said. “I did it when it counted.”
FSU coach Bob Braman was pleased with the Noles’ opening night performance, which not only produced three scorers, but four qualifying efforts for Saturday’s finals.
Hurdlers Trey Cunningham and Cortney Jones were leading the qualifying parade. Cunningham, a freshman, nabbed an automatic spot in the finals by placing second in heat 2. Maintaining his composure with hurdles crashing around him in adjoining lanes, he finished in 7.79 to draw lane 6 for the final.
”That was a gut check for Trey,” Braman said. “It wasn’t his best race, but he closed the last two hurdles to take an automatic qualifying spot.”
Closing in a fury, Jones posted the second-fastest time of her career (8.06) in a third-pace heat finish. Not only was the sophomore the fastest qualifier on time – she came into the meet as the No. 10 seed – but is now the first Nole woman to qualify for the finals in the NCAA era.
“Cortney was awesome,” Braman said. “She was the fastest time qualifier and fifth-fastest overall. She competes like a tiger every time out.”
Junior Andre Ewers and freshman Ka’Tia Seymour rounded out the qualifiers, nabbing top-eight spots on time in the 200-meter dash.
It was sweet redemption for Ewers, whose came into the meet as the No. 1 seed in the 60-meter dash – the junior college transfer was seeded ninth in the 200 – but was ushered from the track following a false start earlier in the program.
“Andre tried to do too much,” Braman said, of his stars’ false start. “He wanted to drop a bomb in the prelims and got away just a tick early. He’ll rebound.”
Ewers did by finishing third in his heat behind the night’s two fastest qualifiers, holding it together up on the front stretch to post the sixth-best qualifying time overall in 20.69.
“It was do-or-die for Andre and he gutted it out,” Braman said. “I’m proud of him for keeping his composure. He’ll be special in the final.”
Seymour’s heat assignment was both a blessing and a curse. She drew lane 5, sandwiched between Georgia’s Lynna Irby, the world leader in the 200, and Kentucky’s Sydney McLaughlin, the top seed in the 400.
Riding the wave of the highly anticipated Irby-McLaughlin match-up, Seymour came home third (23.10), behind the 22.66-22.68 finish of the front-runners. As it turned out, the blazing pace was just enough to enable Seymour to edge USC senior Deanna Hill by two-thousandths of a second for the eighth and final qualifying position.
“Freshmen aren’t supposed to make finals in their first attempt,” Braman said. “She’ll be even better tomorrow.”
The only other missed opportunities on the night for the Noles came in the women’s 60-meter dash where ACC champ Jayla Kirkland (7.25) and runner-up Seymour (7.27) finished 11th and 12th, respectively.
“I was happy with our freshmen sprint ladies,” Braman said. “They ran their second-fastest fastest times of their lives and even a PB wouldn’t have made the final.”
Junior Armani Wallace, the No. 7 seed in the triple jump, will get things started Saturday at 6 p.m. (ET).
You can follow the action via Twitter @FSU_Track and track the competition via live stats at: https://www.ncaa.com/sites/default/files/external/track-field/results/d1/indoor18/index.htm
Saturday’s ESPN3 stream begins at 5 p.m. (ET) http://www.espn.com/watch/_/id/3304130/ncaa-mens–womens-indoor-track–field-championships