JACKSONVILLE, Fla. –A foursome of Florida State’s most-seasoned field event performers secured return trips to the NCAA Outdoor Championships on the opening day of NCAA East Preliminary competition Thursday at the University of North Florida.
Graduate student Stefan Brits, senior Der’Renae Freeman and sophomore Jogaile Petrokaite all booked tickets in the long jump, while senior Katja Vangsnes is moving on to Eugene, Ore. in the women’s hammer.
In addition to the championship qualifiers, Georgia Peel (1500), Jake Burton (800) and Edward Clarke (100) advanced to the quarterfinals in their respective events. Burton (1:48.63) qualified on time for Friday’s 800 quarterfinal, while Clarke earned an automatic spot in Friday’s 100 quarterfinal by placing second in his heat (10.43).
“I thought we came in really focused today,” FSU coach Bob Braman said. “Almost all of our field event athletes all had their best marks on their first attempts and that’s what you want under this kind of do-or-die competition.”
Brits got things started on a sun-splashed day, leaping 7.68 meters (25-2.50) on his opening attempt, which stood as the fourth-best qualifying mark from the field of 48. The national leader this season, Brits will be making his fourth trip to the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Keniel Grant had the misfortune of finishing 13th – one spot out of a trip to the June 8-11 NCAA Championships – by the narrowest of margins. Grant was one of three men with a mark of 7.50m (24-7.25), but had the third next-best attempt of the group, which came into play when NC State’s Jonathan Addison soared 7.92 meters on his final attempt to pass the entire field.
“I felt bad for Keniel to miss nationals on a three-way tie,” Braman said.
Like Brits, Vangsnes wasted no time securing his first trip to the NCAA Championships since 2014 with an opening throw of 59.51 meters (195-3), which qualified her seventh.
Freeman and Petrokaite put themselves on the plane to Eugene with long jumps of 6.30 meters (20-8) and 6.29m (20-7.75), which stood as the sixth- and seventh-best marks on the day. Petrokaite punched her ticket on the first attempt, while Freeman’s best mark of the day came on her second.
“We came in and said, ‘OK, I’ve only got three attempts,’ and that’s the scariest in the field events,” Braman said. “And we either first-marked or second-marked.
“That really says a lot about the coaching, about the kids and about the focus, because you can’t come here very often and play catch-up. You can get away with a few of them. Jake Burton survived a little tactical hiccup, where he had a stop-and-go, was full of run and was lucky enough to get through.”
Burton’s teammate and career-long training partner Otniel Teixeira wasn’t as fortunate, missing the cut in the 800 after placing sixth in his heat in 1:49.29.
“Teixeira, I think he had his best race of the year at ACC’s and wasn’t as sharp today,” Braman added. “It’s just a tough field not to be perfectly sharp and perfectly tactical…I feel really bad for Otniel as a senior. He’s the hardest-working 800-meter runner I’ve ever coached.”
Peel, a senior hunting her first NCAA Championship appearance, secured a spot in Saturday’s 1500-meter quarterfinal in style on her 22nd birthday. She qualified automatically by placing third in her heat with a season-best time of 4:18.42, which was fourth fastest in the field.
Among those Seminoles not moving on were freshman Shauna Helps in the 100 (11.78), sophomore Chelsea Jarvis in the 800 (2:07.33) and senior Christine Griggs, who out-performed her seed with a 40th-place finish in the 10,000 before a hometown crowd in her final collegiate race.
Friday’s schedule will provide nine Seminoles with a chance to join the championship-bound foursome. Top-seeded Kellion Knibb and teammate Sasha-Ann Lebert will kick-start the day in the women’s discus at noon, with Emmanuel Onyia and Chad DaCosta following suit in the men’s discus. Kiara Wright will also compete in the women’s high jump.
In addition to the quarterfinals for Clarke (100) and Burton (800), FSU steeplechase standouts Zak Seddon and Bridget Blake will close things out on the track.
Four Seminole ladies – Meme Jean, Nicole Setterington, Peta-Gay Williams and Melissa-Maree Farrington – will initiate the on-track action at 5 p.m. with the preliminary rounds of the 100-meter hurdles.
“Tomorrow is going to be a big day to keep loading up the plane,” Braman said. “We’re still alive for a spot in the 100; we’re still alive for a spot in the 800.”
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