April 9, 2016 - by
Youngsters Rise Up And Deliver At Rainy UCLA

LOS ANGELES, Cal. – Splashing and dashing their way to 13 collegiate event wins, there were plenty of highlights for the Florida State men’s and women’s track & field teams throughout Saturday’s Rafer Johnson/Jackie Joyner-Kersee Invitational at UCLA. On the national scale, no Seminole was better than Stefan Brits, who leaped a nation-leading 7.94 meters (26-0.75) into a minus-2.4 headwind between rains showers for the long jump victory.

Brits’ feat was certainly impressive, albeit something FSU coaches and teammates have come to expect from the fifth-year co-captain and five-time long jump All-American.

What made an otherwise dreary and less-than-ideal day of atmospheric conditions most promising were the individual event-winning performances by six freshmen; five of whom scored their first collegiate triumphs.

“Overall I thought we had a good meet,” Florida State coach Bob Braman said. “I thought we competed hard. It was a well-run meet, and great to get out here and compete at a place like Drake Stadium with some of the best people in the world out there.

“It was a great experience for the kids to line up against world record-holders and gold medalists.”

As an added bonus, the Seminole men recorded wins over the host Bruins (70-60) and Utah State (71-58) in the double-dual scored meet. The women recorded a win over UNLV (67-54), but were outscored by both UCLA (80-63) and Utah State (69-65), in part because Braman and his staff pulled athletes from competition as a precaution under less than ideal weather conditions.

“We managed to win both men’s meets and we were awfully close on the women’s side,” Braman said. “We probably could have pushed it hard and squeezed it to get the win, but this time of the year you have to be smart and we held out Kellion [Knibb, No. 2 nationally in the discus] and the women’s 4×400 relay. We didn’t double up some of them, so we left some points out there, which was the right thing to do. It’s fun to win this, but you have to be careful with the rain and the conditions.”

The third consecutive day of rain in the area – a rarity in Southern California – did not dampen the promising performances or an emerging core group that is long on both youth and talent.

Freshman Peta-Gay Williams claimed the 100-meter hurdle title out of the second heat and into a minus-2.4 headwind in 13.65. Williams led a 1-2-3 sweep by the Seminoles over the collegiate competitors in the field, and as an added bonus, she edged fellow Jamaican Melanie Walker (13.66). Walker is the 2008 Olympic gold medalist and record-holder in the 400-meter hurdles.

Meme Jean (13.75), Nicole Setterington (13.99) and Melissa-Maree Farrington (14.09) gave the Noles the top four spots in the event.

Youngsters Rise Up And Deliver At Rainy UCLA

Two of Williams’ classmates, Jamaican Shauna Helps and Bahamian Shaquania Dorsett, delivered victories in the 200 and 400, respectively. Dorsett won the 400 outright in 54.01, dispatching seven professionals and post-collegians, as well as the college competitors. Helps was the top collegiate finisher in the 200 (24.33) and third overall in a pro-heavy event. Setterington was second in a personal-best 24.70.

Those weren’t the only wins for the Seminole women. Senior Katja Vangsnes began the day by claiming the collegiate hammer competition in a season-best 59.76 meters (196-0). Fellow senior Der’Renae Freeman nipped teammate Jogaile Petrokaite in the long jump on her final attempt, 6.08m (19-11.50) to 6.05 (19-10.25), for the win.

Redshirt sophomore Bridget Blake was the top collegian in the 1500, finishing third overall in a personal-best 4:26.33. The only other win on the women’s side came from the 4×100 relay team of Jean, Helps, Jande Pierce and Freeman, which placed third overall in a driving rain (45.79) behind teams led by Olympic gold medalists Carmelita Jeter and Allyson Felix.

Beyond Brits’ long jump win, and teammate Keniel Grant’s runner-up finish in a season-best 7.45m (24-5.50), the Seminole men received quite a productive day from their freshmen as well.

Armani Wallace made it a clean sweep of the horizontal jumps, using his collegiate-best leap of 15.54 meters (51-0) to get the job done in the triple jump. Redshirt freshman Brandon Tirado posted a winning mark of 55.77m (182-11) in the men’s hammer. In both instances, they were collegiate winners for the first time

Out on the track, the freshmen duo of Darryl Haraway and Edward Clarke kept their season-long 1-2 punch going in the 100-meter dash, leaving the field behind in 10.43 and 10.66, respectively. They also teamed with freshman Raheem Robinson and Grant, a junior, to deliver a win in the 4×100 relay (40.49).

FSU’s sprint prowess continued in the 200, where junior Jamal Pitts led the field to the finish in 21.28, which was not only a lifetime-best but also delivered the first collegiate win of his Seminole career. Stephen Sutherland was second in a season-best 21.52.

Rounding out the victors among the Noles men was junior Jake Burton, who charged from behind out of the final turn to win the 800 in 1:50.39.

“For our kids to win a meet against good people is a real positive,” Braman said. “The biggest thing is I think the kids started to see the team concept; everybody is inter-dependent. How many points did you get here? How many points did you get there?”

By Braman’s account, the three days of team-building and competition was a positive step as the program’s attention begins to sharpen toward the postseason as the second half of the outdoor campaign begins.

“We got a lot out of it and are going the right way,” Braman said. “It would have been wonderful if it had been typical California dry weather, which we didn’t get…At some point it’s got to stop raining. Hopefully that will be this weekend coming home.”

Florida State will jump right back into the action Friday and Saturday at home as hosts of the Seminole Invitational at Mike Long Track, where Tennessee, South Carolina and Rutgers will be among the top visiting programs.

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