BLACKSBURG, Va. – As defending champions and the highest ranked teams in the field, Florida State’s men and women enter the ACC Indoor Track & Field Championships…chasing titles.
As the three-day meet begins Thursday at Virginia Tech’s Rector Field House, the Noles are bracing for what has annually become a close battle. That’s the nature of the indoor sport, where fewer events and head-to-head match-ups in those events have a way of leveling the playing field.
Florida State coach Bob Braman wants the Noles to keep the momentum building from 2018, when the men edged Virginia Tech by four points for the crown and the women rallied to the title by a 10-point margin over the Hokies. Still, with neither team at 100-percent, and both better-suited for success during the outdoor season, Braman is anticipating a battle with Virginia Tech’s men for top honors, and the Hokies and Miami on the women’s side.
“Each team is different,” Braman said. “Each team has a different mission, but you do want to carry the tradition and kind of keep the ball rolling.”
The action begins Thursday with David Lott competing in the first four events of the heptathlon and concludes with the men’s and women’s distance medley relay races; the Noles’ lone scoring opportunities on the opening day.
Friday is reserved for qualifying rounds in the mile, 800, 400, 200, 60 dash and 60 hurdles, and finals in the heptathlon, high jump, long jump and weight throw. Those performances will set the tone for Saturday’s all-finals schedule.
Braman fondly remembers the 2009 ACC Outdoor Championships at Miami, where the FSU men were riding a string of four consecutive titles on the heels of hoisting three consecutive NCAA Championship trophies but were not at full strength and were trailing late in the final day.
“We didn’t have all of our bullets but we expected to win,” Braman said. “We got down to the end of the meet and we were in danger of losing that streak and it meant a lot. I think [then associate head coach] Harlis Meaders’ words were, ‘Someday we’re going to get beat in the conference meet but today is not that day.’ We rallied up and tied.”
The Noles further cemented their dominance by winning the next two titles, extending the streak to seven consecutive.
“That standard and long-term view is back in focus,” Braman said. “They’re always hard indoors because we’ve got so many guys hurt. We’re not where we’d like to be…That’s difficult for us to overcome in a meet like this. We’re trying to get it done. Virginia Tech is going to have the home track mojo and the home crowd. They’re really going to be comfortable and at their best.
“But the opportunity is there, because I don’t believe – in most events – that we’ve come close to our season peak.”
The Noles aren’t short on firepower. Kasaun James is the top seed in the 200-meter dash, as is defending champion Trey Cunningham in the 60-meter hurdles. The FSU men will also have to optimize their deep and talented pool of sprinters in the 60 and 200, headlined by James, Bryand Rincher and 2017 ACC Track MVP, senior Darryl Haraway. Senior Armani Wallace, the 2018 ACC Indoor Field MVP, is among the favorites in both the long jump and triple jump.
The FSU men won’t have the best versions of stars Andre Ewers and Christoff Bryan as they work their way back to form from injury. Both, however, are entered and capable of contributing precious points to the cause. Others like DaeQwan Butler, Kyle Fearrington, Jacore Irving, Tyricke Highman, Istvan Szogi and Sanjae Lawrence can foreseeably out-perform their seeding projections.
There’s a similar scenario on the women’s side, where the Hurricanes, champions in 2015 and 2016, and the host Hokies, will bring plenty firepower to the table.
“The women’s side gets really complicated,” Braman said. “We’ve played this game three ways before.”
The Hurricanes will lean on stars Symone Mason, Michelle Atherley, Tiarra McMinn, Brittny Ellis and Kayla Johnson to provide the bulk of their points. The Hokies have elite talent from the 400-Mile events, the pole vault and an improved supporting cast.
The Noles will counter with top seeds Ka’Tia Seymour (60 meters), Jayla Kirkland (200) and Rougui Sow (long jump). Seymour and Kirkland are also No. 2 seeds, as is Cortney Jones (60 hurdles) and Militsa Mircheva (3000).
And like the men, they too have athletes capable of making contributions over and above their seeds, including Maudie Skyring, Jodie Judd, Jogaile Petrokaite and Nadia Maffo.
Braman plans to deliver a simple message to his squads before the competition begins.
“Don’t wear the crown too heavy from last year,” he said. “That’s last year’s team. We’re chasing. And we’re a good chasing team and certainly the women were last year. I’d like to keep that favorite where I think it should be, on the other teams, and let’s be the chasers. And every time we have an exceptional performance, feed off of that.
“This is the one meet where somebody in an entirely different event can provide you momentum in your event.”
You can follow the action throughout the three-day meet via Twitter @FSU_Track and Instagram @fsu_track. Live results can be tracked at https://theacc.co/itf19results.
A complete recap will be posted daily at Seminoles.com.