LEXINGTON, Ky. – A cool, damp and dreary day did not deter a pair of Florida State first-time NCAA postseason performers from rising to the occasion in the biggest collegiate meet of their careers to date. Redshirt freshman Veronika Kanuchova and freshman Carlos Becker will finish their seasons at the NCAA Championships, qualifying in the women’s hammer and men’s long jump, respectively, on the first day of.
NCAA East Preliminary competition. Kanuchova, whose first season in garnet & gold includes a school record and an ACC title, is headed to Eugene, Ore. and Historic Hayward Field. Delayed nearly three hours as torrential rains pelted the University of Kentucky Track & Field Complex, the Slovakian standout executed the game plan to precision in a competition where, from a field of 48, the top 12 advance after only three throws.
“This is my first regional and I tried to do my job on my very first throw and that’s what I did,” said Kanuchova, whose opening mark of 61.16 meters (200-8) secured a place in the field. “I am proud. You can’t be disrupted by the weather. I just tried to be focused and do what I came here to do.”
“She did great,” FSU throws coach Dorian Scott said. “We’ve been training for the first throw to make it out of the region and on the first throw she did what she had to do. She did her job. We’re still working on some things technique-wise and the technique is not perfect, but whether it’s good technique or bad technique, get the job done. That’s what she did and I’m really happy for her.”
Across the track, Becker didn’t waste any time leaving his mark, either. Entering the competition seeded 31st out of 48, the Florida State defensive back stuck an opening attempt of 7.47 meters (24-6.25), which was good for third place with the top 24 seeded jumpers yet to compete.
It proved to be good enough for the rising football star, who sealed the Seminoles’ Orange Bowl victory over Michigan with an interception on the final play.
“Carlos was spectacular,” FSU coach Bob Braman said. “It’s extremely rare to qualify from the third-best flight, but he didn’t let his ranking hold him back. He could do something really big at Nationals.”
Much of the opening day was reserved for first-round competition, which cut the fields in each running event in half. The Seminoles cashed in on five of seven opportunities on the track.
Redshirt sophomore Michael Hall drew a tough assignment in the 1500, battling it out in what proved to be the fastest qualifying heat of the day. Perfectly positioned throughout, Hall’s lunge at the finish line sealed a fifth-place finish – and the fifth-fastest time of the day (3:47.84) – to automatically qualify for Saturday’s quarterfinal.
“Mike ran a really smart race,” Braman said, after watching Hall emerge from a heat which produced the eight fastest times on the day. “He stayed out of trouble and stormed down the final straightaway. He’ll need to duplicate that on Saturday in order to punch his ticket to Nationals. He’s becoming a really cool customer in these tactical races.”
Fifth-year senior James Rhoden is headed to the first NCAA quarterfinal race of his career on Saturday, automatically advancing in the 400-meter hurdles with a second-place heat finish in 52.29, after battling a fierce headwind down the backstretch.
“James Rhoden was really on his game from the first hurdle and easily qualified,” Braman said. “He’ll have an excellent chance to make it to Nationals.”
Shauna Helps kept the Seminoles’ streak of advancing runners alive, moving on to the quarterfinals automatically with a third-place heat finish in 11.43, despite a slow getaway from the blocks.
“Shauna was under control and easily advanced to the next round,” Braman said of the two-time ACC champion. “She always runs well when the spotlight is on and she’ll certainly have that in the next round.”
Helps’ quarterfinal 100-meter race is set for 6 p.m. Friday and she will finish her day with the opening round of the 200-meter dash.
FSU’s final two quarterfinal qualifiers on the day came in the 400 meters; one of which was anticipated, but the other which proved to be one of the biggest surprises of the day.
Shaquania Dorsett, seeded 10th overall, battled her way to an auto-qualifying third-place finish by powering up the home stretch. Making her NCAA East Prelims debut, the sophomore registered the 14th-best time of the day, clocking in at 53.40.
“Shaquania didn’t panic and ran tough as nails down the straightaway,” Braman said. “She’ll need that same toughness in the next round in order to punch her ticket to Eugene.”
Freshman Kyle Fearrington followed up his fourth-place ACC finish by advancing to Friday’s quarterfinals on time in 47.53.
“Kyle ran beyond his years,” Braman said. “For him to make it through to the next round is fantastic. He’s got a shot to make it through to Eugene if he can just shave a few tenths of a second.”
The opening day of competition was not without heartbreak and disappointment, however.
Junior Jogaile Petrokaite, hunting her third consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships in the long jump, finished 13th by virtue of a tie-breaking, second-best attempt. The Lithuanian posted her second-best mark of the outdoor season (6.25 meters/20-6.25), which was matched by Mississippi State’s Leah Lott, who claimed the 12th and final qualifying spot with a four centimeter edge over Petrokaite on her next-best mark.
“My heart breaks for Jogaile,” Braman said. “She ties for that final spot to Nationals and loses the tiebreaker. Track and field is a brutal sport — it’s a one day, three-jump evaluation, not a full season analysis.”
Keniel Grant, a victim of the same tie-breaking procedure at last year’s NCAA East Preliminary, finished 18th and out of the hunt again.
The day ended on a sour note when senior Jake Burton was unable to answer the call for start of the 800; the victim of an injury after posting his fastest time of the season at the ACC Championships.
“Jake is in the shape of his life but he strained his foot right after ACC’s and just couldn’t get healthy,” Braman said. “It’s a shame. I’m certain he would’ve moved on to Nationals, but I’m proud of his resume as a Seminole as an ACC champion, indoor school record-holder and second-team All-American.”
Friday’s competition gets underway at 2 p.m. with the highly-anticipated women’s discus, led by 2016 NCAA runner-up Kellion Knibb and her fellow Jamaican teammates Gleneve Grange and Shanice Love.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Scott said of the trio. “Nobody has the pressure to on them to throw far tomorrow. They know what they have to do in their minds. I feel good so far, so let’s keep it going,”
Scott will also send No. 6 seed Austin Droogsma into battle in the shot put, along with senior Chad DaCosta.
On the track, the Seminoles’ 100-meter hurdles trio of Peta-Gay Williams, Cortney Jones and Nicole Setterington are set for first-round qualifying races, beginning at 4:30 p.m. Freshman Eleonora Omoregie will also make her NCAA East Prelims debut in the high jump.
The SEC Network+ will provide live streaming coverage, Friday beginning at 5:30 p.m. and available here http://es.pn/2qwWZwN
You can locate more information at the official NCAA East Preliminary page:
Complete recaps at the conclusion of each day will be posted at Seminoles.com, along with photos and a recap on the official Florida State Track & Field Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/FSUTrack/#