ATLANTA, Ga. – Fighting to the finish of an intense seven-hour day of competition, Florida State’s track & field teams produced four individual ACC Outdoor champions, four top-10 NCAA marks and a pair of Field MVP performances Sunday at Georgia Tech.
What they didn’t get was what they coveted the most. The 14th-ranked Seminole women’s bid for a successful ACC title defense came up six points shy, despite historic and heroic efforts from all corners.
With a runner-up finish in the 4×400 relay, Virginia Tech overcame a two-point deficit to deny the Noles a fifth ACC title by a 124.5-118.5 margin.
“I’m really proud of these ladies,” FSU coach Bob Braman said. “In 21 events we only misfired in one. I can’t ask for any more than what they gave us.
“I can tell you most of our top talents are very young. I can also tell you that we have some difference-makers joining us next year. We will be on a mission for the next 365 days to bring that trophy back to Tallahassee.”
FSU’s men simply ran out of ammo in the waning stages of the meet, finishing third despite piling up 104 points; 70 of which came on the final day. Virginia Tech completed the sweep of team titles, edging No. 11 Virginia 120-119 for the crown.
“The men had a really good three-day effort,” Braman said. “We kept challenging the lead all weekend. I’m never satisfied with third but those are two top-10 teams that beat us and we gave them everything they could handle.”
Both the Seminole women and men were quite a bit to handle, as their stars rose to the occasion on the championship stage, led by graduate student Kellion Knibb.
Knibb became the first four-time women’s discus champion in ACC history, and just the third Seminole – joining legends Kimberly Williams and Lacy Janson – to finish her career having never lost in a championship event.
“It feels good to get the title for a fourth time, especially having the two girls out competing with me,” said Knibb, whose winning mark of 59.76 meters (196-1) edged junior teammate Gleneve Grange (57.02m/187-1) for top honors. Freshman Shanice Love (52.63m/172-8) was fifth as the Noles mounted their charge to the team lead with 22 points in the event.
Grange’s second lifetime-best of the meet – it’s the No. 3 mark in the country – and second silver medal, earned her Field MVP honors.
“It was just a good journey of training, knowing that I could come out here and do what Coach [Dorian] Scott told me to do,” Grange said. “Two PBs – what more can I do?”
“I’m ecstatic for Gleneve,” Braman offered. “She had another PB and won the ACC Field MVP award. And what can you say about Kellion? Four straight ACC titles is almost unheard of in any event.”
The supporting cast for the throwers didn’t shirk their responsibilities. Sophomore Peta-Gay Williams led a 1-3 finish in the 100-meter hurdles, laying down a personal-best time of 12.96 – No. 2 all-time at FSU and No. 5 nationally this year – for the win. Freshman Cortney Jones was third (13.25).
“Peta-Gay stepped into the national spotlight today,” Braman said. “She came from behind for a huge win in a sub-13 second performance. She had her game face on after the 4×1 mishap and wanted to put us back in the title hunt and man did she accomplish that.”
The mishap, a missed first exchange preventing the 4×100 relay team from finishing, would be the lone bobble of the weekend for the women.
“I was determined to come out today and get my team the points and the win, not only for the team but for myself,” Williams said. “At this point, it’s a personal best and I’m always grateful.”
Fellow sophomore Shauna Helps continued her ascent into one of the elite sprinters in the country. Not only did Helps successfully defend her 100-meter dash title, she did it in an ACC Championship meet record time of 11.26, which moved her to No. 9 nationally this season and No. 3 all-time among Seminoles. It also tied the mark for the fastest performance in the 100 in the history of the ACC.
“The execution of my race in the [preliminary] was really, really good so I was wondering if I had actually hit a ceiling, because I made minimum mistakes,” said Helps, who qualified for the final in a personal-best 11.39. “I didn’t know if I had any more in me because I ran almost a perfect race.”
Sandwiched between Clemson’s Rebekah Smith and Torie Robinson, Helps once again found her top-end speed and pulled ahead at the wire for the win, duplicating her 2016 victory.
“In the final I executed a similar race, but I had more competition and also, I’m the defending champion,” she said. “I think I run best that way, chasing people.”
Helps would come back and tack on third-place points in the 200-meter dash (23.27) and the Noles also picked up a seventh-place finish from Shaquania Dorsett, who turned in a season-best time in the 400 (52.70).
Trailing the Hokies by two points heading in the 5000-meter run, the penultimate event of the meet, redshirt freshman Carmela Cardama Baez delivered the Noles the lead. Her fourth-place finish in a lifetime-best 16.17.83, No. 10 all-time at FSU, put her team in front by two points heading into the 4×400 relay.
“I didn’t realize my race could make such a big difference, but I wanted to make the most out of it,” Cardama Baez said. “I came into the race [seeded] 10th and wasn’t expected to score and I just wanted to run the best I can. I’ve been here since Friday just seeing all my teammates fight every day…I just really love my teammates and wanted to do my best.”
“Carmela ran like a tiger today,” Braman said. “She ran a season-best by over 20 seconds and posted five big points in the penultimate event that put us into the lead going into the 4×4.”
Needing to finish within one position of the Hokies in the 4×400 to secure at least a share of the title, the Noles came up short, finishing ninth overall in a season-best time by three full seconds. Virginia Tech, however, left no doubt about the team race, placing second overall.
The Seminole men slapped a quick 18 points on the board to start the day, climbing out of a tie for third and into second place in the team standings, then made things a bit more interesting when they piled up 23 points with a 1-2-4 finish in the triple jump.
Sophomore Armani Wallace turned in a transcendent performance on the heels of his Saturday night long jump title, smashing his lifetime-best with a winning leap of 16.32 meters (53-6.5); No. 3 in the nation and No. 6 among all Seminoles.
The parade of personal-bests on the runway included Montel Nevers’ silver medal leap of 15.99 (52-5.5) and Ashton Butler’s 15.71-meter (51-6.5) for fourth.
“Armani had a major breakthrough,” Braman said. “He’s become a truly national-class jumper. I’m so happy that he won the Field MVP trophy. Montel and Ashton were also spectacular. That’s a huge point haul in the triple jump.”
Wallace was just as happy to see his teammates thrive as he was to win his second title and the MVP award.
“It’s not that number I want, but I’m happy with it and happy to get 10 points for my teammates,” Wallace said. “It was great competition. Ashton increased his PB by a whole meter, which is really unheard of. Montel is Montel. He’s the person that makes me step up every meet and chase for the gold.”
The day began with Ed’Ricus Williams grabbing silver in the high jump after a spirited jump-off with Louisville’s Jerin Allen. Both Williams and Allen flirted with clearances at 2.18 meters (7-1.75) after successfully clearing 2.15m (7-0.5), with the Cardinal ultimately prevailing.
“That was an epic high jump battle,” I think we had four or five jump-off bars for the win and Ed came close twice,” Braman said. “It was great competition at quality heights and I’m really proud of him.”
There was drama in the men’s discus as well, which produced a 10-point haul for the Noles and a surprise scoring contributor.
Top-seeded senior Emmanuel Onyia, the picture of consistency throughout the season, settled on a fourth-place finish in a competition which required a throw of 59 meters to get on the podium. Onyia’s top mark was 55.62m (182-6) and classmate Chad DaCosta (53.87m/176-9) was right behind him in fifth. After finishing third in the first flight, Fred Jones was a surprise finalist, landing the last spot. The standout defensive tackle and second-year thrower moved into scoring position on his first attempt (49.38/162-0) and held eighth place and the finish.
“That was the best discus competition in the last 10 years,” Braman said. “We battled hard and collected big points, but I really felt bad for Onyia. He really wanted to win for us here and there were three experienced All-Americans in his way.”
FSU’s 4×100 relay team of Raheem Robinson, Darryl Haraway, Edward Clarke and Keniel Grant provided an eight-point scoring bump with silver in 40.23, and Clark would later add a seventh-place finish in the 100 (10.48).
Among the other Seminoles providing scoring contributions were Jake Burton, who was fifth in his four ACC Outdoor 800-meter final in a season-best 1:48.83. Michael Hall tacked on an eighth-place point in the 1500 (3:48.25).
Freshman Kyle Fearrington’s personal-best 46.58 was good for fourth in the 400 and Kenny Lane was eighth (47.53). James Rhoden was fifth in the 400-meter hurdles (51.24), then teamed with Fearrington, Lane and Steven Simpkins for fifth place in a season-best 3:07.69 to round out the scoring.