TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – It’s hard to imagine that there have been many better single-day performances by the Florida State track & field teams at Mike Long Track than what they delivered Saturday at the Atlantic Coast Conference Championships.
Put it this way, Stefan Brits’ gravity-defying and record-setting long jump – the No. 6 mark in the world and No. 1 collegiately – was one of seven lifetime-best standards on the day by the Seminole men, who were collectively overshadowed by the women.
One-two finishes by Melissa-Maree Farrington and Grete Sadeiko in the heptathlon, and Der’Renae Freeman and Jogaile Petrokaite in the long jump, were supplemented by Bridget Blake’s runner-up steeplechase showing and Kellion Knibb’s fifth-place finish in the discus.
In all, the Seminole ladies registered 10 personal-bests and two additional season-best marks on a 48-point day. With 58 points, the unranked Noles hold a 22-point lead over second-place Virginia, and more importantly, a whopping 43-point margin over prohibitive favorite, No. 17 Miami, entering Sunday’s finale.
“We’ve had our ups and downs the whole season, but everybody that can, is rising up and getting it done,” Florida State coach Bob Braman said. “How they’re competing…you start to see what we can be, not just tomorrow, but two weeks from now and four weeks from now, and for the most part what we can be next year. It’s really exciting.”
The Seminoles delivered plenty excitement with performances from every spot within their home facility, though none were bigger than Brits’ Olympic-standard leap of 8.22 meters – 26-11.75 – which smashed his own ACC Championship record of 8.05 meters set at the 2013 meet.
“I don’t think I can describe the feeling yet, because I don’t think that feeling has set in,” said Brits, who strengthened his case for a spot on the South African Olympic team in Rio. “It’s more of a relief because of the all the hard work and thank goodness it has paid off. And it’s definitely a miracle. There is no way I jumped that far by myself. It’s impossible.”
Miracles apparently came in bunches around the long jump runway where his teammates Keniel Grant (7.69m/25-2.75), Ashton Butler (7.39/24-3) and Armani Wallace (7.24/23-9) also registered personal-best marks. Grant was fourth and Butler eighth, as the Seminoles registered 16 of their 30 team points – the FSU men are in sixth place – in one event.
There would be more magic in the sand later in the day by the Seminole women, but not before the heptathlon tandem of Farrington and Sadeiko set the stage with their 1-2 finish.
Farrington polished off a 400-point personal-best in the heptathlon with a lifetime-best 800 (2:20) for 5,735-point total – No. 12 nationally – securing a spot at the NCAA Championships next month. Sadeiko finished with 5649 points, capped by her own collegiate-best 800 (2:18) to seal the silver medal.
“I was focusing on the national qualifier and I wanted to PB,” said Farrington, a junior transfer from Nebraska who completed just her fourth career heptathlon. “I hadn’t PB’d in the 800 in a long time, and my dad said, ‘Come on, you can do 2:20.’ The whole race I was just thinking about doing 2:20. I just wanted to end it off on a good note and to give everything my 100-percent.”
Farrington wore a smile of satisfaction after her breakthrough.
“I’m healthy, I’m fit and I’ve got my confidence back,” she said. “There’s no way I couldn’t finish a Hep and get that point score…I’ve always known I could do that and more, it’s just finishing it healthy and being happy.
“I’m very healthy and very happy.”
There was no shortage of happiness around the women’s long jump pit where Freeman – for the third consecutive year – won the title on her sixth and final attempt. Pushed to the limit, the senior summoned up her third lifetime-best mark of the series to eclipse Petrokaite with a leap of 6.54 meters (21-5.50). The second of two Petrokaite personal-bests of the day carried her 6.52 meters (21-4.75) and was good for the silver against the most-competitive long jump field in ACC Championship history.
“The long jump ladies were simply unbelievable,” Braman said. “Lifetime best for JoJo and a last jump, high-drama winner from Der’Renae. D-Nay is the ultimate clutch jumper. It takes a world class jumper to beat her on her home runway.”
Freeman and Petrokaite climbed to Nos. 3-4 all-time among Seminoles.
“All it is, is just a test of faith,” Freeman said of her string of last-attempt, ACC title jumps. “It’s all in the mind. If you believe and you want it, then you’re unstoppable.”
And it didn’t hurt to have Petrokaite, as well as NC State’s Alexis Perry (6.48) and Georgia Tech’s Bria Matthews (6.47), setting the stage.
“JoJo is a very talented sophomore; one of the most talented people I’ve seen and it’s good to have somebody that I grind with every day and we’re pushing each other, motivating each other and critiquing each other,” Freeman added. “I love it.”
So did FSU director of field events Dennis Nobles.
“I’m the luckiest guy in the Tallahassee,” Nobles said, after he posed with his second set of gold and silver medal winners.
The personal-best parade extended to the throws, where Kellion Knibb cashed her first shot put competition of the season into a fifth-place finish and four more team points. Knibb’s mark of 15.29 meters (50-2) was an outdoor personal best.
The fifth final of the night for the women was the steeplechase, where Bridget Blake laid down a silver medal, lifetime-best time of 10:09.81, which moved her to No. 6 on FSU’s esteemed all-time list.
“They don’t care what they’re seeded, they feel like they can do better than they’ve ever done,” Braman said of his women’s team. “PR, PR, lifetime-best, season-best…You could’t keep up with them.”
Zak Seddon’s steeplechase duel with defending champion Edwin Kibichiy did not disappoint, as the two battled shoulder-to-shoulder through seven-plus laps under the lights. Kibichiy prevailed in a dead sprint over the final barrier, 8:34.46 to 8:34.85.
Chad DaCosta didn’t miss the PB train either, as his fifth shot put attempt carried 17.94m (58-10.25) for fifth place. The same held true for hobbled senior Cristobal Hurtado-Arteaga, who matched his personal-best in the high jump (2.08m/6-9.75) for seventh-place points.
While it was easy to get caught up in the finals heroics, the Seminoles also positioned themselves for a big Sunday.
Meme Jean (13.01) was the fastest qualifier for the 100-meter hurdle finals and will be joined by teammates Peta-Gay Williams (13.26) and Nicole Setterington (13.45) on Sunday, where the Noles should be able to widen their lead on the field. Jean turned a new personal-best in the No. 2 time in Florida State history. Williams’ time was also a personal-best and good for No. 6 on the all-time list.
Freshman Shauna Helps clocked her collegiate-best in the 100 prelims (11.62), which ranks second in the field of eight finalists. Chelsea Jarvis moved on with her 800-meter heat win in a season-best 2:07.42.
While the FSU women will be well-positioned from those events, it will also count on Knibb, the discus favorite, and teammate Sasha-Ann Lebert to deliver big points. The Seminoles’ 4×100 relay and 1500 finalists Georgia Peel and Blake could also contribute significantly to a title run.
FSU’s men would have to scale some significant heights on the final day to score a fourth consecutive team title. Still, the Noles qualified well in several events, most notably the 100 and 800.
Freshmen Edward Clarke and Raheem Robinson advanced in the 100, while veterans Jake Burton and Otniel Teixeira punched their ticket for a third consecutive 800-meter final together. The Noles will also field a solid 4×100 relay and hope to count on scoring production from Seddon and Michael Hall in the 1500 final.
“It’s going to be fun tomorrow, and we don’t have 10 events that we have to score in,” Braman said, as he assessed the titles chances of the women. “We have to do what we do well, put those in the bank and put the pressure on the opponent.”
Clearly, a fourth ACC title is within reach.
“That is the goal,” Freeman said. “I really want one more ring. If we all put our hands together and do our part, we are unstoppable.”