March 15, 2014
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - James Harris stole the show in the opening event of the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships Friday night at the Albuquerque Convention Center, twice eclipsing his lifetime best on the way to winning the high jump with a leap of 7-7.25 (2.32 meters).
Harris, a senior, set Florida State, Atlantic Coast Conference and facility records en route to the first NCAA Championship of his stellar career.
"Once I got jumping I was kind of grooving," said Harris, who admitted that he had not felt particularly sharp in warm-ups. "I got my steps together and it went really well."
The No. 2 seed entering the meet, Harris sailed through his first three heights without a miss, then needed a third attempt to clear 7-5 to stay in the competition along with favorite Nick Ross of Arizona and Marcus Jackson of Mississippi State.
"When I had two misses at 7-5 and I went over it and cleared it on my third attempt, I knew I had good room," Harris said. "I said, `Oh, my gosh, it's time to go.' ... When I cleared 7-6 on my first attempt I knew the ball was in my court, then."
Harris sailed 7-6 - a new lifetime best - while Ross needed two attempts and Jackson a third to stay in the competition. His first attempt clearance at 7-7.25 - the 10th-best mark in the world this year and the eighth-highest clearance in NCAA history - sealed the victory.
It's the first indoor national title by a Seminole since Ngoni Makusha won the long jump in 2011, on the way to winning The Bowerman Award, presented to the nation's top collegiate track & field athlete.
To beat two long-time rivals and high jump specialists was especially rewarding for the Lanett, Ala. native, who had three near misses at 7-9.75, which would have broken Hollis Conway's 25-year old collegiate record.
"I just treat it as if those guys are high jumpers and I'm a sprinter who happens to high jump," Harris said. "It was all there for me to gain if I just showed up to compete."
In addition to his first NCAA title, Harris became a first-team All-American for the 10th time in his career, but his night was not over. Roughly 90 minutes later, Harris qualified for Saturday's 400-meter final with another lifetime best (45.90), which was good for third-fastest overall in the field of 16.
Harris won the first heat by nipping Florida's Arman Hall, ranked No. 2 in field and No. 1 in U.S., at the finish. Last weekend, Hall was representing the U.S. on the world record-setting 4x400 relay at the World Championships in Poland.
"I felt like all I needed to do was get on the track and just compete like I had been doing," Harris said. "It was a good inspiration because you don't want to do good in one event and get busted in another. It kept me focused."
The Seminoles weren't through with their breakout opening-night performance. Sophomore Der'Renae Freeman, making her first NCAA Championship appearance of any kind, was credited with a second-place finish on the strength of her second-attempt mark of 6.35 (20-10).
Freeman was ecstatic after picking up her second-place trophy.
"It's pretty exciting," said Freeman, a Winter Garden, Fla. native. "I'm stoked. I didn't expect this. I came in sixth and then I moved to second. I was nervous but I kept my composure and just remained focused; I didn't let anything distract me. I just focused on me and I came out second. I'm so happy."
Freeman's happiness was fleeting, as a video review - on protest - of her best jump of the night, led to meet officials to deem that attempt a foul. That left her to stand on her next-best jump, 20-2.25 (6.15m), which was only good for seventh place.
Locke, who false-started in the preliminary round at last year's NCAA Indoor Championships, got away cleanly from the blocks and finished strong. The senior from Tampa matched his season-best time (6.56) to finish right on the heels of Alabama's Diondre Batson (6.54). He heads into Saturday's final as the third-fastest qualifier, also trailing Houston's Cameron Burrell (6.54).
Quigley had quite a battle on her hands in the second heat of mile, after watching teammate Linden Hall (4:48.65) fail to qualify out of the first heat. As the top seed overall, Quigley could either advance by finishing in the top four of her heat, or having one of the two-fastest remaining times.
Locked in a tight battle, Quigley chose the surer path, holding on for fourth in 4:42.51 which stood up as the fourth-fastest time entering Saturday's final.
"I think the overall theme was our kids competed their butts off," FSU men's and women's coach Bob Braman said. "James was amazing, and Locke and Quigley were outstanding."
The Seminoles received solid, but non-scoring performances from a trio of individuals competing in their first NCAA Indoor Championships.
Junior Hannah Walker missed a spot on the podium by one place and less than a second, finishing ninth in 16:35.01, while sophomore teammate Pippa Woolven was 13th (17:04.09). Both finished higher than their seeds entering the meet.
"Hannah ran as hard as she could and just missed scoring," Braman said. "Cherry-Bronson, who may be the only non-scholarship kid - certainly in her event and maybe in the building - was solid. For first-timers, it's tough.
"The thing that hurts the most is the Der'Renae thing. ... The athlete is competing to try and do something spectacular; trying to win against an athlete that's an Olympian. ... You ought to be told on the spot and have to challenge it on the spot, and then you could tell the athlete, `That jump is under challenge.'"
FSU's night ended with the women's distance medley relay team of Georgia Peel, Elizabeth Ichite, Sydnee Over and Hall, coming back off the mile, finishing 10th in 11:22.97. Unfortunately, the team was later disqualified for a zone violation on a handoff.
With one day down and only five completed events for both the men and the women, the Seminole men are alone in ninth place with 10 points, while the women are tied for 28th with 2 points. Still, the stage is set for even bigger things on Saturday for the `Noles.
"Tomorrow we've some big point opportunities," Braman said. "In the 60 meters, we've got a guy [Locke] who can win the race. In the triple jump, we've got a guy [Jonathan Reid] who can win that. In the 400 we've got the second-seeded guy [Harris] who can win that. There's a lot of momentum and those guys might do something in the 4x400 as well, because they're going to be the No. 1 seed in their heat and not have a lot of objects in their way.
"The men are having a whale of a meet and the women are competing hard. Hopefully Colleen can come back and fight another day and be who Colleen is."
You can follow the action via Twitter @FSU_Track and get daily updates at Seminoles.com or via the official Florida State Track and Field facebook page www.facebook.com/FSUTrack.
Saturday's finals will be streamed on ESPN3 beginning at 7:50 p.m. (ET) http://es.pn/1nVPfcX