April 18, 2012
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - The track at Lannigan Field on the University of Virginia campus was the launching point for one of the most dominating stretches by one program in Atlantic Coast Conference history. It was here, in 2002, where the Terry Long-coached Florida State men's track & field team won its first outdoor conference championship.
Since 2002, there have been 21 ACC indoor or outdoor championship meets. The Seminoles have won 18 of those, a number they will try and build on when the three-day 2012 ACC Outdoor Championships get underway Thursday.
Florida State's men have brought the last seven outdoor championship trophies home to Tallahassee, which is second only to Maryland's string of 24 consecutive titles from 1956-1979. Running that streak to eight won't be easy.
"We've got some health challenges," FSU coach Bob Braman said. "This may be as big a challenge as a coaching staff since we came on board nine years ago. You've got Michael Putman out, who is probably a two event winner on paper. David Forrester, who was a runner-up indoors and an All-American in cross country [is out]. Brandon O'Connor is not with us yet. Our 1-2 [indoor] finishers in the long jump - Paul Madzivire and Stefan Brits - this is their first outdoor meet. ...
"This is going to be a critical weekend. It's going to be hard to win. Virginia Tech is deep, they seem to be healthy and they're probably not too happy about us taking [the championship] back indoors. They've probably been counting the days for this showdown since then."
The absence of Putman, who was the 2011 Outdoor Championship Field Performer of the Meet after winning the discus and finishing second in the shot put, hurts. So does O'Connor, the defending 400-meter champion.
That's not to suggest that the men are void of talent. Senior sprint star Maurice Mitchell, who is bidding to become the first man in conference history to win three MVP titles, leads a stable of sprinters who likely hold the key to any championship hopes. In addition to defending his 200-meter title, Mitchell will run the 100 and will be a key asset to FSU's two sprint relay teams.
Kemar Hyman, Horatio Williams, Stephen Newbold, Rachmil van Lamoen and David Ambler will need to come through with scoring in either or both the 100 and 200 dashes. Kieran Showler-Davis, Ronald Bolden and Justin Byrd will also be instrumental in both the relays and individual events.
As an added bonus, fifth-year star Gonzalo Barroilhet will make his ACC Outdoor Championship debut in the decathlon. Barroilhet, who is preparing to make his second Olympic Games appearance representing Chile, is the school record-holder in the decathlon (7,986 points), but has never competed in the multi-event during the ACC outdoor season.
FSU will need every point it can muster to turn back the Hokies, who have been runner-ups each of the last two outdoor seasons.
Since becoming the first ACC women's program to sweep the triple crown - cross country, indoor and outdoor track & field - in 2009, the Seminoles have not finished lower than second. While Braman's women are largely healthy, they are also young, especially in the point-rich sprint events.
Hopes of continuing their string rest with "anchor seniors" Michelle Jenije and Amy Harri, the favorites in the triple jump and long jump, respectively, and women's distance coach Karen Harvey's deep and talented posse.
"The women's distance group has just been our backbone this season, thank goodness," Braman said. "They've been who they are - the best distance program in America."
Harvey's group has every event covered from the 800- to the 10,000-meter runs, plus the steeplechase. Aside from stars Amanda Winslow, Hannah Brooks and Violah Lagat, Braman likes that Kayleigh Tyerman, Jennifer Dunn, Astrid Leutert, Jackie Drouin, Colleen Quigley, Aubree Worden and Chelsi Woodruff appear to be emerging at the right time as well.
It is Braman's contention that staying on top is significantly more difficult than making the climb, as the `Noles did under Long back in 2002 in Charlottesville. Braman was on that '02 staff along with current Seminole assistants Harlis Meaders, Dennis Nobles and Ken Harnden.
"We were putting together a good group at the end of Coach Long's run," Braman said. "We were an extraordinarily good conference team. We had 13 NCAA qualifiers that year but only one scored on the men's side. We kind of made a conscious effort to not be as much of a conference team, but more of a national team."
That's not to say that continuing their ACC dominance isn't a motivating factor.
"The conference is a lot better than it was back in 2002," Braman added. "We used to win championships in that run by sometimes 40 or 50 points. That has not been the recent history. We had to rally last year. We had to rally indoors this year. We didn't pull it off indoors in 2011. A few years back - probably the best team we've had on paper was the 2009 team - and we tied Virginia at Miami.
"It was great to kick it off here and give Coach Long a nice retirement title since he was responsible for all of us being here and with that, what we've become."
Action gets underway at Lannigan Field Thursday at 12 noon with the start of the decathlon, while opening day culminates with the 10,000-meter men's and women's finals. Friday will include a heavy dose of preliminary rounds, leading up to Saturday's finals.
You can follow all of the action via Twitter @FSU_Track and catch up with a complete recap at the end of each day at Seminoles.com.
Additional coverage, including live streaming Friday and Saturday, will be available here http://bit.ly/2012ACCOTF, and live results throughout the meet can be monitored at http://bit.ly/2012ACCOTF-Results.