TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The holiday season is a time for gift-giving and the Florida State track & field teams have loaded up during the early signing period with a 11-athlete haul – eight men and three women – whose talents could help lead the Seminoles back to the NCAA Championships podium while maintaining their place among the ACC elite.
Best of all, the Noles won’t have to wait long to open their gifts. Four signees arrive on campus in January, just in time to have an immediate impact with the 2018 indoor season opening Jan. 6 at Clemson.
“I’m really pleased with this signing class,” Florida State coach Bob Braman said. “It’s not our biggest class to date, but our focus was on the home run hitters.”
Among the Noles signed with the ability to go deep into the postseason are a pair of January arrivals. Redshirt junior transfer Andre Ewers, a Florida native and the 2017 junior college national champion in the 100-meter dash, leads a proven group of men’s sprinters. Ewers established personal-bests of 10.25 (100), 20.83 (200) and 6.65 (60) at Butler (Kan.) Community College last year.
He will be joined by Poland’s Jakub Andrzejczak, an incoming freshman who was the 2017 silver medalist in the long jump at the European U20 Championships and also holds his country’s junior national record in the triple jump. Andrzejczak arrives with lifetime bests of 8.02 meters (26-3.75) and 15.95m (52-4) which would rank among the best marks in FSU history.
Rounding out the quartet of January arrivals are Oklahoma State graduate transfer Ieva Zarankaite and Iowa State transfer Toby Hardwick. Zarankaite, a versatile thrower from Lithuania, was an NCAA Championships qualifier in the discus last year. Hardwick is a two-time All-Big 12 cross country performer.
“The exciting part of this class is that we get some incredible athletes in uniform in January,” Braman said. “Andre and Jakub are already NCAA national level stars and Toby will be an ACC impact athlete both indoors and outdoors this spring.
“Ieva is our only January transfer on the ladies’ side, but she steps into the circle with two other national qualifiers in Gleneve Grange and Shanice Love. That’s the best group of three discus ladies in the country.”
Zarankaite has the skill set to score six events at the conference level between the indoor and outdoor seasons, but excels in the discus with a personal-best of 54.62m (179-2.25). She is Lithuania’s national champion in her specialty.
Collectively, the class is heavy on men’s sprinters with Ewers joined by Jamaica’s top-ranked high school sprinter in the 100 and 200, Jhevaughn Matherson. Matherson ranked among the top 13 juniors in the world in both the 100 and 200 last season and owns gold medals from the Carifta Games (100) and Penn Relays (4×100).
Complimenting that duo are Florida high school seniors Bryand Rincher, the 2016 4A state 100-meter champion from Piper High School, and Steven Stallings out of G. Holmes Braddock. They own 100-meter personal-bests of 10.49 and 10.47, respectively.
“Short sprints were obviously a focus and we landed two elite impact men who will challenge for national honors right out of the blocks,” Braman said. “We also signed two Florida speedsters who will jump right into the 4×100 relay and have the potential to become elite short sprinters before their careers are over.”
In addition to Andrzejczak and Zarankaite, director of field events Dorian Scott collected the signature Sanjae Lawrence, who won junior college national titles in the shot put both indoors and outdoors as a freshman. Lawrence, a Kingston, Jamaica native competing now as a sophomore at Barton (Kan.) Community College, owns a shot put personal-best of 18.30m (60-0.5) and a high school discus best of 53.90m (176-10).
On the women’s side he added an FSU legacy athlete in Amani Heaven, who owns the top shot put and discus marks among Florida high school seniors. Heaven, who father Donald Heaven starred on the Seminoles’ offensive line and competed in the throws, ranks among the top 20 nationally entering her senior season at Hallandale High in both the shot put (13.60m/44-7.5) and discus (45.28m/148-6). An all-around athlete, Heaven is giving up basketball to focus on track in her senior season.
“Jakub and Sanjae are two of the most talented field athletes that we’ve ever signed and they will be national scorers in their first seasons, I’m certain,” Braman said. “Amani is Coach Scott’s next great thrower. He compares her to Kellion Knibb and sees even bigger potential for her.”
FSU’s distance crew will not only benefit from the addition of Hardwick’s arrival, but also the signing of two local products.
Elizabeth Funderburk from nearby Moultrie, Ga. was unbeaten in cross country as a senior, claiming the Georgia 7A title and capping her high school campaign by winning the state’s Meet of Champions. She is looking to repeat as the 7A 3200-meter champion on the track and move up one spot in the 1600 after a silver medal finish while representing Colquitt County High.
“Elizabeth had an undefeated regular season in cross country and is one of the fastest 5k runners ever in Georgia high school cross country history,” Braman said, noting Funderburk’s season-best 5k of 17:10.0 which ranked among the top 25 times nationally. “We see Elizabeth as freshman impact runner like Jodie Judd was this past fall.”
Chiles High senior Matthew Newland has been a four-year mainstay on teams that have never finished below second place at the state cross country meet and he has finished fourth and sixth, individually the last two years. On the track he’s scored in the 3200 each of the past two years and been a contributor to a pair of state team titles.
“Toby and Matt give us two talented distance men who will play a big role in our cross country future,” Braman added.
“We expect to add some a few more elite athletes in the late signing period, but this was a truly fantastic effort by our coaches to bring in this talented of a group, especially on the heels of the monster class we signed last year.”