LEXINGTON, Ky. – Closing Saturday’s finale of the NCAA East Preliminary with a flurry, Florida State track & field athletes locked in six more NCAA Championship berths, capping a strong three-day performance at the University of Kentucky.
The Seminoles will head to Eugene, Ore. for the June 7-10 National Championship meet with 16 qualifiers; 15 of whom emerged from the competition.
One of those qualifiers, redshirt senior Emmanuel Onyia is among 15 who will be making their first NCAA Championships appearance as Seminoles.
“It’s really wonderful being around a group of people that really want to get better and really want to do well,” said Onyia, who qualified eighth in the discus. “It makes you want to do well all the time. This year we have a group of guys and a group of girls who are really, really focused and want to be great. It makes it so much easier to compete consistently, as I have all year.”
There was nothing easy about the final day of competition, which included a four-hour weather delay, but the Seminoles rose to the occasion.
Fittingly, their final four qualifiers – following a deluge or rain and thunderstorms – came in pairs.
Freshman Cortney Jones, the January enrollee after graduating early from high school, got the ball rolling in the first heat of the 100-meter hurdle quarterfinals. Closing strong after getting out of the blocks slowly, Jones’ time of 13.23 was good for a third-place finish and the final auto qualifying spot in the heat.
Two heats later, sophomore Peta-Gay Williams was matching Kentucky’s defending national champion Jasmine Camacho-Quinn hurdle-to-hurdle much of the way, finishing second in 12.99 to advance for the first time in her career.
“Cortney Jones showed poise beyond her years,” Florida State coach Bob Braman said. “She was nearly last through three hurdles and simply charged down the track to get an auto spot. Peta-Gay has gotten so proficient that sub-13 is just a clean smooth effort. She’s positioned to hit a big one at Nationals.”
Moments later, graduate transfer high jumper Ed’Ricus Williams and Onyia were celebrating as well.
Williams, who qualified for the 2015 NCAA Championships while competing for Bethune-Cookman, left no doubt that he was going to close his career as a Seminole at Historic Hayward Field. Delivering emphatically, Williams was one of only three jumpers perfect over three bars, locking in his spot with a clearance of 2.15 meters (7-0.5).
“I’m definitely elated about being able to go back this last season and put some points on the board for the school and go get a national championship ring,” Williams said. “Last year I was hurt, but my pride would not let me not [compete]. No-heighting after being ranked third going in, it really broke my heart. I remember watching the recap of nationals while I was out to eat and I almost cried, because, ‘Man, I’m supposed to be there.’
“Coming into this year I was going to do all I could do, so that when this day came I was going to be ready to go. And when that day comes in Oregon, I’m going to be ready to win it.”
“This is the most focused I’ve seen Ed’Ricus,” Braman said. “He had the ultimate disappointment of a no-height last year and he was not going to have that happen this year. He was the best in the field and was able to walk-off with zero misses. That’s a perfect way to go into Nationals.”
Onyia’s opening throw of 56.41 meters would have been good for the 12th and final qualifying spot, but his final throw of 57.86m (189-10) sealed the deal.
“This means something special, especially because of the circumstances,” Onyia said. “I hurt my calf on Sunday at practice and we’ve been working on it all week. We’re like, ‘We just need one good throw,’ and we know we’ve been doing really good work in practice. We had to come out here, forget about the pain and just work. We got it done and I’m really happy.”
The Seminoles didn’t waste any time building on their Friday success, when they registered seven qualifiers. Montel Nevers and Armani Wallace earned the first NCAA Outdoor Championships appearances of their careers, finishing seventh and 10th in the triple jump.
“Montel and Armani did a great job,” Braman said. “Both of them were handicapped in that the runway wasn’t long enough for their approaches, so they had to improvise, and a meet like this is a tough place to improvise. They both stepped up like champs and got it done.”
Nevers, who was eighth at the NCAA Indoor Championships, nailed down his trip to Eugene with an opening attempt 15.75 meters (51-8.25). Wallace joined him on the plane with a second-attempt mark of 15.64 (51-3.75).
Beyond the qualifiers, the FSU two men’s relays teams turned in season-best performances, which came up just shy.
In the final event of the night, the men’s 4×400 relay team of Kyle Fearrington, Kenny Lane, Jamal Pitts and James Rhoden posted a first heat, fifth-place, season-best time of 3:07.05 which stood up through two heats as a qualifying mark. In a blazing final heat, Georgia and North Carolina A&T bumped the Noles from the field.
Earlier in the day the 4×100 relay team of Raheem Robinson, Pitts, Edward Clarke and Darryl Haraway teamed for a season-best time of 39.71 and a 14th-place finish, just two spots shy of joining their teammates.
Redshirt freshman Carmela Cardama Baez suffered a cruel fate, taking an early tumble while running in the lead pack of the 5000-meters, which sent her to the back of the 24-runner field. Despite a gritty charge to a 10th-place heat finish, her time of 16:53.98 kept her from qualifying.
Gleneve Grange’s bid to become a double qualifier – she advanced in the discus Friday – came up three spots shy as she was 15th in the shot put (16.15m). Shauna Helps’ outstanding sophomore season ended with a 15th-place finish in the 200-meter dash (23.21) and senior Nicole Setterington closed her stellar Seminole career by finishing 20th in the 100-meter hurdles.
Michael Hall was 21st in the 1500, while senior Chad DaCosta and redshirt sophomore Ashton Butler were 26th in the discus and triple jump, respectively.