TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Seven Florida State track & field athletes – five women and two men – will represent the Seminoles as qualifiers for the NCAA Indoor Championships, March 11-12 at the Birmingham (Ala.) Crossplex.
Long jumpers Stefan Brits and Der’Renae Freeman, each in their final season of eligibility, will be making their second appearance at the indoor national championship meet. The remaining five athletes – Jake Burton, Chelsea Jarvis, Meme Jean, Sasha-Ann Lebert and Jogaile Petrokaite – are first-time individual event qualifiers, though Jarvis was a member of two qualifying relay teams last season.
“Last year we had six individuals and two relays – only two individual women – so we’ve actually had more individuals qualify this year,” Florida State coach Bob Braman said. “That’s a good number for indoor track.”
Qualifying for the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships is not easy, with only the top 16 times or marks in each individual event – and the top 12 relay times – earning a spot in the field.
“It’s quite an honor,” Braman said. “It’s very, very hard to make an indoor track national. People have compared indoor track qualifying in the NCAA, in most events, to IAAF or Diamond League indoor meets at the professional level. It’s truly the highest level short of professional in our sport if you’re in the NCAA Indoor Championships. You’re pretty special.”
Of the seven qualifiers, three secured spots in the field based on their performances at last week’s ACC Indoor Championships. Brits post a 10-centimeter improvement on his season-best long jump, a lifetime-best indoor mark of 7.82 meters (25-8) to lock down the No. 12 seed. A doctoral candidate in chemistry, Brits is making his first trip to the indoor championships since placing sixth in 2013.
Lebert, another graduate student in the program, used a monster performance in the ACC weight throw competition to earn her first NCAA Championships appearance. The transfer from Florida A&M posted four marks over 20 meters, including a lifetime-best of 20.96 (68-9.25) which vaulted her from 33rd nationally to the No. 16 position.
Burton raced his way into the championship field as FSU’s first 800-meter qualifier since 1982 by placing second at the ACC meet in a school-record time of 1:47.72, which also eclipsed the previous ACC Indoor Championships mark.
“Jake Burton breaks the conference all-time record and he’s 15th out of 16 qualifiers,” Braman said, driving home the point that it’s difficult to just earn a spot at the meet. “It has just gotten crazy. I haven’t counted the sub-four-minute milers, but it’s the most ever . The women went from a 4:40 mile down to 4:37 [to qualify].”
A year ago Freeman failed to qualify for the indoor championships by the narrowest of margins, posting the 17th-best mark nationally in the long jump. After placing seventh at the 2014 meet, the battle-tested senior is the No. 12 seed with an indoor career-best mark of 6.38 meters (20-11.25).
Freeman is joined by her sophomore training partner Petrokaite (6.34m/20-9.25), who was ranked 17th nationally but earned the No. 15 seed after two scratches from the top 16 ranked athletes. The Lithuanian qualified for her first NCAA Championship meet outdoors last June.
Jean has the highest seed among Seminoles, checking at No. 5 nationally in the 60-meter hurdles, thanks to her blazing 8.08 in the preliminary round at the ACC Championships. Another graduate student who transferred in from Charleston Southern, Jean is trying to become FSU’s first All-American indoors since Tonja Brown and Carolyn Faison did it in 1982 at the AIAW National Championships.
Jarvis rounds out the qualifying Noles and will be FSU’s first 800 participant at the meet since Laura Gerber placed third in 2001. The Great Britain native, who ran on last year’s ninth-place 4×400 relay and was a member of the DMR qualifying squad, is the No. 14 seed on the strength of her school record 2:04.45, set at the David Hemery Valentine Invitational in Boston last month.
From the group of qualifiers, Braman pointed out that four of the seven – Burton, Freeman, Lebert and Jean – are Florida high school products.
“The challenge for this group, and I think we’re up for it, is now you’re a second-team All-American and among 16 [in each event], can you get in there and score?” Braman said. “If they compete the way they did at ACC, just about all of them are in position to make the final and score.
“Our kids did a great job, and we feel like barring some nicks and dings, we’re ready to go.”