Feb. 1, 2014
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - James Harris led an exceptional showing by Florida State's 400-meter contingent with a new personal-best Saturday at the Razorback Invitational, which will all but secure him a place at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships next month.
Against a star-studded 400-meter field, Harris produced the nation's fifth-fastest time and a lifetime indoor best of 46.20 to finish third behind the top two men in the country - Texas A&M's Deon Lendore (45.47 ) and Florida's Arman Hall (45.63). As an added bonus, Harris also took over the Atlantic Coast Conference lead after entering the meet ranked third.
"Obviously James got it done and the other 400-meter guys got closer," Florida State coach Bob Braman said. "Michael Cherry was really impressive today. The 400-meter men and women had the better turnaround."
This time last year, Cherry was the No. 1 400-meter high school runner in the country. Following his dramatic heat victory Saturday, he is now the owner of a new personal-best (46.57) and holds the distinction of being the nation's top freshman at 400 meters with his No. 14 national ranking. The breakout performance vaulted the Chesapeake, Va. native to No. 4 on Florida State's all-time list.
After banner individual performances, Harris and Cherry teamed with Alonzo Russell and Ricardo Roy - who was filling in for 2013 All-American Dentarius Locke - to produce a very solid fourth-place 4x400 relay finish in 3:07.87. That mark is shy of the Seminoles season-best time of 3:07.70 with Locke in the lineup, which remains the sixth-best mark among Division I teams.
Harris and Cherry backed up their individual efforts with relay splits of 45.76 and 46.01, respectively.
On the women's side, neither Sage Watson or Elizabeth Ichite were able to duplicate their breakthrough 400-meter marks set a week ago at the Cherry & Silver Invitational in Albuquerque, N.M., but they still turned in stellar efforts. Watson placed third in 53.85 and Ichite was fifth in 54.51.
Ichite came back later to lead off FSU's 4x400 relay to a season-best time of 3:43.55 with a sizzling 53.99 split from the gun. Senior Marsha Ariol kept the `Noles in the hunt with the two fastest teams in the world thus far - Texas A&M and Florida - with a huge personal-best second leg split of 55.08. Sydnee Over and Sarah Chandler finished off the quartet's fourth-place finish. Even more encouraging, the `Noles rolled out their season-best time with Watson on the sidelines.
"The women's 4x400, you can see the pieces coming together," Braman said. "The same for the men's 4x400. We've got two weeks to get ready for the Tyson Invitational, which will have electricity unlimited in that arena."
Beyond the success of the long sprinters, Anne Zagre made her season debut with the Seminole and left a favorable impression, finishing second in the 60-meter hurdles in 8.38. The 2012 Belgian Olympian had company in the finals as freshman Nicole Setterington recorded a lifetime-best mark of 8.63 to place fourth.
"It was good to have Anne Zagre back out there and you can see she is someone who is going to make it (to NCAA's)," Braman added. "We've got to get out jumpers healthy. They're a little dinged up and probably had the toughest double coming back. We need to get them back to health, but there's a lot of promise there."
Overall, however, the Seminoles had a difficult time mustering the same kind of performance they turned in a week earlier.
"Going back to the New Mexico you're looking at a nine-day span and you're covering all of that travel," Braman said. "We competed hard but we had some tired horses, for sure. It was a tough turnaround for the kids that did both meets.
In a unique twist, the Razorback Invitational - which included nine nationally ranked programs - included team for the first time. The Florida State women, which entered the meet ranked No. 17 nationally, finished fourth with 83.5 points, trailing No. 7 Arkansas (151), No. 3 Texas A&M (146) and No. 4 Florida (84).
On the men's side, the sixth-ranked Seminoles placed sixth with 56.5 points. Top-ranked Arkansas was the runaway winner with 153.5 points, followed by No. 5 Texas A&M (116.5), No. 2 Florida (90), No. 10 Oklahoma State (73) and Oklahoma, which finished with 57.5.
"I was enjoying it while we were beating people," Braman said of the scoring format. " It was kind of interesting because on the men's side you were running against Nos. 1, 2 and 3, and we matched up with third place most of the meet.
"I do like the scoring format. ... It does give you that mindset that, `Hey, in a month we're running for scores.'"
The Seminoles will break from their competition schedule next week and return to action Feb. 14-15 back in Fayetteville, Ark. for the Tyson Invitational, with the distance group headed to Seattle, Wash. for the Husky Invitational.