TAMPA, Fla. – Florida State’s 4×100-meter relay teams set the tone for Saturday’s strong finish at the NCAA East Preliminary, as the Seminoles converted eight of 13 qualifying opportunities into trips to the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
The Seminoles pushed their three-day total of qualifiers to 18 – eight men and 10 women – who will compete at Oregon’s Historic Hayward Field, June 6-9.
“It was definitely a successful first round for the Noles,” FSU coach Bob Braman said. “We got almost all of our heavy hitters through and we had some reach new levels nationally as well…I’m really pleased with how well our kids competed in a do-or-die competition. Top 10 [NCAA] finishes are still in play for both squads.”
The rain-filled day at the USF Track & Field Stadium began with some thunder from the men’s 4×100 relay team of Keniel Grant, Darryl Haraway, Edward Clarke and Andre Ewers – the fifth different lineup of the season – delivered a first heat victory in a season-best time of 39.12. Ewers, anchoring for the first time, ran down three teams after taking the baton for the auto-qualifying spot.
“It felt great because it wasn’t about me, it was about getting the team to nationals,” said Ewers, who came back later in the day to qualify third overall in the 200-meter dash (20.32). “I was gauging my speed to catch the guys to get to nationals and not trying to break the clock…
“It’s very satisfying emotionally. I’m happy for the guys that they get a chance to go to nationals and experience that atmosphere.”
FSU’s women followed suit in the second heat as the quartet of Jayla Kirkland, Shauna Helps, Cortney Jones and Ka’Tia Seymour dropped the fifth-fastest time of the day (43.60), and the fifth-fastest in program history, with a third-place heat finish.
Helps’ decision to run was not an easy one, as a tender hamstring had assistant coach Brandon Hon considering a different group. It would come with a price as the junior was forced to pull out of the 200 later in the day.
“First and foremost I thought about the team and figured the safest thing was to punch our ticket to Oregon and attempt the 200 if I could,” Helps said. “It was bittersweet, but worth it, because we punched out ticket and ran a season best.
“I’m super proud of this team…You couldn’t ask for a better set of people.”
Braman was especially impressed with Helps’ resolve.
“Shauna Helps gave us one of the gutsiest races I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I have no idea how she willed her hamstring to hold together. All I can say is, wow!”
With the tone set the Noles kept the ball rolling. Freshman Trey Cunningham advanced in the 110-meter hurdles with a competitive runner-up finish to world leader Grant Holloway of Florida in 13.66, which stood as the third-fastest time on the day. Fellow freshman Tyricke Dickens came up two spots shy of joining Cunningham, running 14.05 to finish 14th.
Sophomore Cortney Jones secured her second consecutive NCAA Championships berth with a strong 100-meter hurdles finish, winning the first heat in 13.17 and beating rival and ACC champion Jeanine Williams of Georgia Tech in the process.
“That was my main goal, to try and win my heat, survive and advance,” Jones said. “I wasn’t worried about the time at all, especially with the weather we had.”
Ewers followed with his 200-meter heat triumph to fill his NCAA dance card, having already qualified in the 100 and the relay.
“This gives me a lot of motivation,” Ewers said. “Ever since I false-started in the 60 [at the NCAA Indoor Championships], I transferred that pain outdoors and said I’m not going to let that happen again. I’ve made too many sacrifices.”
He won’t be the only Nole competing in the sprint triple as Seymour backed up her Friday 100-meter qualifying performance, and earlier anchor work in the 4×100, by clinching a trip in the 200-meter dash with a third-place heat finish in 22.95. Kirkland delivered her collegiate-best of 23.35, which was 15th overall in the quarterfinal round.
After converting qualifying opportunities in each of its first six events with entries, the Noles hit their lone bump of the day when ACC Championships Field MVP Corion Knight was eliminated from the high jump after clearing only 2.06 meters in a steady rain.
“It was a tough weekend for Corion,” Braman said of Knight, who also came up short in his long jump qualifying bid. “We would’ve loved to have had his weapons in Eugene, but he’s a had a dream season for a first-time NCAA athlete.”
It wouldn’t be the only disappointment of the day, but the next one – Montel Nevers’ 13th-place finish in the triple jump – was offset by teammate Armani Wallace’s monster personal-best to advance.
Wallace unleashed an opening attempt of 16.44 meters (53-11.25) to lock up his second consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships. The junior’s massive mark was even more impressive, considering he came up shy of the of the takeoff board on the attempt.
“That was a huge jump for Armani, especially considering the bad weather conditions,” Braman said. “We’ve seen 54-foot-plus jumps from him a bunch of times with minute fouls. This one was half-foot behind the board.”
Braman called Nevers’ 13th-place finish in 15.69 meters (51-5.75) a “gut-wrencher” as he finished two centimeters – three-quarters of an inch – shy of having an opportunity to earn All-American honors for a second consecutive year.
“He was 10th with only four jumpers left and ended in the worst spot possible – first man out,” Braman said.
Like Wallace, senior Austin Droogsma did all he needed on his attempt, securing a trip in the shot put after posting an opening mark of 19.41 meters (63-8.25). The Gulf Breeze, Fla. native finished eighth in the pecking order, but will close his career with a fourth consecutive NCAA Championships appearance – two each indoor and outdoors – while hunting his second first-team All-American honors of the year.