ATLANTA, Ga. – It’s not often that a first-year athlete participating in a championship meet for the first time carries the burden of being the favorite.
That’s exactly the position Florida State redshirt freshman Veronika Kanuchova was entering Friday’s women’s hammer final at the ACC Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
“You know this on my chest makes me feel nervous because it’s a big responsibility,” Kanuchova said, pointing to the Seminole head on her jersey. “I know I’m on the team and I know I need to do well because my team needs me, and I just wanted to do my best and support my team.”
In dramatic fashion, the Slovakia native rose to the occasion, climbing from third to first on her sixth and final attempt and delivering the 14th-ranked and defending champion Seminoles their first victory of the three-day meet.
“On that last throw I was going to lose or I was going to win,” Kanuchova said. “I found something in myself that I didn’t know I had. I just did it.”
She raised her arms in triumph as her final throw mark – 64.01 meters (210-0) – was called out, pushing her past the Virginia Tech’s Pavla Kukovla (63.16) and Emma Thord (62.94) for the victory. With her best competitive mark since the season opener, Kanuchova matched the 2016 victory by FSU’s Katja Vangsnes, which set the Seminoles on their title path.
“That was huge for Veronika,” FSU coach Bob Braman said. “She’s been stuck on 62 meters for four or five weeks and not only does she gap it by two meters, she did it on her final throw and won 10 key points for the team. And she needed every centimeter to get the win.”
The hammer was very good to the Seminole men as well, as sophomore Brandon Tirado began the day with a fifth-round personal-best of 61.11m (200-6) to finish fifth overall. Tirado, who came into the competition as the No. 8 seed, walked off with the third-best mark in program history and All-ACC honors.
“Brandon did a fantastic job,” Braman said. “That’s a critical three extra points towards our title chase.”
On a day when just seven finals were contested, both the men and women positioned themselves for bigger things over the final two days of competition.
Defending heptathlon champion Melissa-Maree Farrington, looking to complete her first multi-event competition of the season, carries a 122-point lead over top-seeded Holly Hankenson of Louisville. Farrington was rock-solid through all four events and didn’t relinquish the lead after winning the opening 100-meter hurdles (13.79), which she followed with a season-best high jump (1.71m) and a personal-best in the shot put (11.80m).
“It’s great to have Melissa back healthy again,” Braman said. “She was super focused today and had no bad events. She’s defending her title with everything she’s got and she’ll be right there fighting for the win tomorrow.”
The biggest surprise of the day in a non-final was turned in by sophomore decathlete Dante Newberg, who stands alone in second place with a five-event total of 3,845 points.
Newberg began the day with back-to-back victories in the 100-meter dash (10.73) and long jump (7.13m/24-4.75), both of which were lifetime-best performances. He relinquished the lead following the shot put, but reclaimed the top spot in the standings by sailing three bars over his previous personal-best with a clearance of 1.99 meters (6-6.25). Despite a season-best in the 400, he will begin Saturday’s competition trailing Duke’s Robert Rohner by 80 points; well ahead of where he was projected as the No. 7 seed.
“Dante Newberg was on fire all day,” Braman said. “His 100, long jump and high jump are almost on a national level, but even in his non-preferred events he’s done a good job.
“His improvement from his freshman year has just been incredible. Kudos to coach [Dennis] Nobles for having him peaked at the right time. His points will be a big boost to our teams’ title chances.”
Shauna Helps, who entered the 200-meter prelims as the No. 4 seed, dodged a late-race scare to automatically advance to Sunday’s final by winning heat two in 23.54, edging NC State and Louisville runners by 100ths of a second.
“Shauna looked fantastic,” Braman said. “She completely dominated the heat but misjudged the finish line. Thank goodness she still got the heat win. We’ll need big points from her in the final.”
Michael Hall came into Friday’s 1500 qualifying as the No. 4 seed, needing only to finish in the top five of his heat to advance. Well-positioned throughout he was nearly knocked down with 500 meters to go, but regained his composure and closed with a flurry, advancing automatically in 3:49.97.
“Mike had to fight his way through a rough and tumble prelim,” Braman said. “He was almost pulled to the ground and had to gather himself and finish big in the last 100 meters. It’s going to be a great final and hopefully Mike can finally get on the podium.”
James Rhoden grabbed an auto spot in Sunday’s 400-meter hurdle finals by finishing second in his heat (52.12), but will face a stiff test in the finals as he tries to improve on his fifth-place finish in 2015.
“James easily qualified for the finals, but we’re going to need a big race from him in the finals,” Braman added. “That’s a stacked field.”
While Friday was largely a success, the Noles will have to make up a little ground in Saturday’s qualifying races after their trio of 200-meter runners failed to advance.
Newberg leads off Saturday’s action in 11 a.m. as he continues his quest for a podium finish in the decathlon with the 110-meter hurdles, while day 2 of Farrington’s heptathlon title defense begins with the long jump at 12 p.m.
Among the key finals on tap, the Austin Droogsma leads a trio of men’s shot putters, while Keniel Grant will chase his first ACC men’s long jump title. ACC Indoor champions Eleonora Omoregie and Jogaile Petrokaite will try and complete their season sweep of titles in the women’s high jump and long jump, respectively, while Gleneve Grange will try and improve on her third-place indoor shot put finish.
Saturday’s ACCNetworkExtra/WatchESPN coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. http://es.pn/2otlOEo
Live results for all events can be found at http://flashresults.com/2017_Meets/Outdoor/05-12_ACC/
You can follow along throughout the competition via Twitter @FSU_Track and check back for nightly video and written recaps at Seminoles.com, and daily photo galleries on our official facebook account at https://www.facebook.com/FSUTrack/?nr#