Jan. 15, 2008
When you’re at the top, your only intention is to stay there and that’s the plan for the 2008 Florida State men’s track and field team. With back-to-back NCAA Outdoor National Championships, the Seminoles have been the dominant program in the country and are looking to add their first indoor title as well.
Fifth-year head coach Bob Braman – who won his second USTFCCA Division I National Coach of the Year Award in 2007 – has his team poised to put itself in some elite company. A third national title would make the Seminoles just the fifth team in the championship’s 87-year history to win three championships in a row. If Florida State could hold both titles it would be just the fourth school to claim both in the same year and the only other team besides Arkansas since 1983.
“We found out last year that it was a heck of lot harder to repeat than to win it the first time,” Braman noted. “We’ll be a little bit more prepared for that challenge this year. It’s a little easier in track to keep the guys focused than in other sports because each athlete has their individual goals they are striving for on their way to helping the team.”
The Seminoles bring back a strong core of four runners that were a part of the 2007 National Championships team. While he wasn’t in Garnet and Gold last year, Rayon Taylor – the 2007 NCAA Outdoor triple jump champion – has joined FSU for his final season. In addition to the four All-Americans and Taylor, the Seminoles return eight athletes who helped FSU win its third-straight NCAA East Regional title and seven more who were an intricate part of FSU’s eighth and ninth ACC championships in the last five years. Factor in the third-best recruiting class in the country and Florida State has the makings of another magical season.
For the second year in a row, Track and Field News has predicted that the Seminoles will take the Outdoor title. Senior sprinter Walter Dix was forecasted to take repeat as the 100 and 200m champion as well as the 4x100m relay team. In addition, the Seminoles are ranked No. 1 in the preseason USTFCCCA Indoor Poll.
“Track and Field News has picked us to win again and certainly that’s a daunting task,” Braman said. “We lost a couple of great ones last year in Chambers, Lemoncello, Bolden and Lancashire, but any time you’ve got Walter Dix you’ve got a shot. This team is a lot more like our 2006 team where we’ve got weapons in every area and I think it’s a lot deeper like ’06.”
Any discussion of the FSU program starts with the sprint program and Dix in particular. The 2007 USTFCCCA Division I Track Athlete of the Year, he became the first runner since John Carlos in 1969 to win the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay. With seven national championship and 15 All-America awards, he is looking to finish his career as one most decorated runners in NCAA history.
Joining Dix on the medal stand last year was junior Michael Ray Garvin and sophomore Charles Clark. Garvin added his third All-America award in the 100m last year while Clark doubled up in the 200m. The trio gives Florida State the most formidable sprint group in the nation. Adding to this group will be freshmen Ngonidzashe Makusha, who advanced to the semis of the 100m at the World Junior Championships, and Brandon Byram, the back-to-back Tennessee high school champion in the 200m.
One of the biggest shoes to fill will be those of indoor and outdoor 400m champion Ricardo Chambers. A member of the indoor All-America 4x400m relay as well as the All-East Region 4x400m team, junior Tywayne Buchanan is one of the leading candidates to replace Chambers, as well as senior Hubert Mitchell. A trio of freshmen – Jair Francis, Pablo Navarrete and Kevin Williams – have great potential in 400m, topped by Francis, who ran a 46.84.
Navarrete will challenge senior and regional qualifier Andrew Krumins for the top spot in the 800m as his personal-best of 1:50.65 is just 0.65 behind Krumins’ best time of 2007, which rated fourth in the ACC. Florida State hopes to get a boost from All-ACC 800m runner Tommy Noyes, who missed last year with an injury while sophomore Stephen Wilson qualified for regionals in the 800m and was on the ACC champion distance medley team.
While Chambers may be the toughest individual to replace, no area has felt a bigger loss than the distance crew. Gone are All-Americans Andrew Lemoncello and Tom Lancashire, but two seniors will look to take their place and there is a strong group of young runners looking to contribute.
Senior Luke Gunn came on late in the spring to break through for an eighth-place showing in the steeplechase at NCAAs. Classmate Mark Buckingham made it to the East Regional in the event and both had a strong cross country season. Junior Javier Cruz scored points for the Seminoles in the 10000m at the ACC meet. Steeve Gabart performed well during the cross country season after taking fifth in the 10000m at last year’s ACC Championships.
A trio of newcomers will enhance this year’s distance group. Sophomore Daniel Roberts came on during the cross country season after earning outdoor, indoor and cross country All-America honors and setting school records at Cedarville University. Freshman Matt Leeder was one of the top high school distance runners in all of North America last year and Justin Harbor was a multiple state champion who transferred to FSU after a redshirt year at Oregon.
Just like the mid-distance, the hurdles is an area that could give Florida State a tremendous push this year. Junior Javier Garcia-Tunon has advanced to regionals in both the 110 and 400m hurdles the last two seasons and participated in the 400m at nationals as a freshman. Senior Elliott Wood earned All-East Region and All-ACC honors in the 400m last year while classmate Drew Brunson competed at the NCAA meet in the 110m his sophomore year at Tennessee.
The Seminoles put together a national championships team last year without a single point scored during the field events. That should change this year with some valuable additions and underclassmen ready to step up.
The biggest addition to the field events is certainly Taylor. Last season he earned All-America honors during both the indoor and outdoor seasons, capped off by the winning jump at Outdoors. Freshman Brian Chibudu was expected to score points at NCAAs but a torn left LCL sidelined him for the season. His career long leap of 7.91m would have won the NCAA long jump title t last year. Makusha will be an asset in the long jump as he holds the Zimbabwe national record at 7.87m while Byram owns a career-long of 6.9m.
“I think the newcomers could be quite big,” Braman added. “Gonzalo in the decathlon could be a sleeping giant and all the jumpers will be big, especially Ray Taylor and everything he’s already accomplished. There are a lot of guys that didn’t score points last year that could step up for us.”
Junior Timothy Reen scored points at both the indoor and outdoor ACC meets in the high jump while sophomore Andrew Bachelor cleared an indoor height of 2.03m to take eighth at the league meet. Warren Harper will handle the majority of the pole vault responsibilities after redshirting last season.
The throws appear to be in good shape for a number of years as they only have one senior and added an outstanding freshman. Senior Matt Wernke and sophomore Travis Whitfield both competed at NCAA East Regionals in the hammer, while junior Bryan Howard was at the event in the javelin. Sophomore Sharif Small scored points at the ACC Championships in the discus.
Freshman Michael Putnam is one of the biggest recruits the Seminoles landed last year. A two-time All-American, he placed fifth in the shot at the Junior Pan-Am Games. A US Junior National champion in the shot, his career-best throw of 63’11” came at the Nike Outdoor Nationals.
Florida State has never had an ACC Champion in the decathlon, but rookie Gonzalo Barroilhet may soon accomplish that feat. He won the Chilean Senior National Championship in the event with a national-record score of 7,504.
As always, Florida State will take on some of the top competition during the indoor and outdoor season in preparation for the ACC and NCAA Championships. During the indoor season the Seminoles will be back at the New Balance and Tyson Invitational. FSU will host four meets during the outdoor season while traveling to the Texas and Penn Relays. Bolstering the Seminoles’ chances of three-peating is that the NCAA East Regional meet will be held in Tallahassee, May 30-31.
“Having regionals here is going to help us in a lot of ways,” Braman said. “There’s a fine line between winning your event and not making it – look at someone like Lancashire last year – and when you’re on your home track you can do a better job of taking care of a lot of little things that can push you over the top. That doesn’t even take into account, the home crowd and the momentum, which obviously helps.”