May 23, 2012
By Bob Thomas, seminoles.com
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Florida State men's track & field team can't win a national championship over the next three days of NCAA Championship East Preliminary Round action at Hodges Stadium on the University of North Florida campus.
Head coach Bob Braman's Seminoles can, however, enhance their chances.
That's the primary goal the `Noles carry into the three-day competition, which will trim the field of 48 athletes in each individual event - and 24 relay teams - to 12, setting the stage for the June 6-9 NCAA Outdoor Championship meet at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
FSU will send 19 men and 16 women into action, hoping to come away well-positioned to continue their string of success on college track & field's greatest stage. The Seminole men have finished first or second in the scoring five times in the last six years, and with a veteran, star-studded lineup, should once again be in the mix for a title.
"It's real similar to last year," Braman said, looking over his list of preliminary round participants. "We had practice the other day and I had Kemar, Gonzalo, Maurice and Horatio all stand in the middle and told the rest of the team, `These four guys cannot win the national meet. We've got to help them and pick up points in various areas.'"
Sprinters Maurice Mitchell, Horatio Williams and Kemar Hyman, along with decathlete Gonzalo Barroilhet, are seniors with All-American credentials who will be counted on heavily to carry the banner this weekend and at the NCAA Championship meet.
Yet it's the other, less-heralded Seminoles, who may well determine whether the 2012 team has the mettle to avoid the disappointment of last season's one-point loss to Texas A&M, or the two-point loss the 2009 squad suffered.
Distance runners David Forrester, Michael Fout and Breandan O Neill will need to be among the 12 advancing in the 1500, 10,000 and 5000, respectively. So do jumpers, like Phillip Young, Paul Madzivire and Stefan Brits, senior shot putter Michael Putman, junior pole vaulter Andrew Lahaye and the 4x100 relay team.
"Like I've told a couple kids that haven't felt that, winning an NCAA title is an amazing feeling," said Barroilhet, who has already qualified for the NCAA Championship with the nation's second-best decathlon score. "It's a payback for all the effort you've put in all these years. ... It's an amazing feeling and once you win, nobody can take that away from you. I've been there, luckily, and I just keep encouraging people to look for that. It's the ultimate goal for a college student."
Barroilhet, who will compete in the 110 hurdles at UNF - and with a little luck, the pole vault - is the only remaining Seminole who was on the team and contributed to FSU's 2008 national championship. Putman was a freshman sitting out his redshirt season.
"We need our studs to be who they are and our elite guys to be elite," Braman said. "We've got to go out there and execute, dominate and intimidate, like they do. But we need the mass to qualify this weekend and have the best days of their lives at the national meet.
"For whatever reason, we've been better than we're supposed to be at the national meet just about every year."
The Florida State women, however, have more modest, but no less important, goals. While the `Noles feature senior jumps stars Michelle Jenije (triple jump) and Amy Harris (long jump), as well as a cadre of preliminary round distance runners, they lack the depth to realistically compete for a team title.
The Seminole women haven't finished worse than 20th at the NCAA Championship meet each of the last six years, highlighted by a fourth-place showing in 2009. Matching that standard, and setting the bar high for the immediate future, is essential for a team that has a nice blend of experience and youth, with significant recruiting help on the way.
Harris and Jenije, along with 1500-meter standout Hannah Brooks, are competing as collegians for the last time. They have All-American honors to their credit.
"These other athletes need to learn how to do it, the same way the [Amanda] Winslow learned how to indoors a year ago and Brooks learned how to do it last year."
Youngsters like freshmen Colleen Quigley and Aubree Worden, and veterans like Winslow, Violah Lagat and Astrid Leutert, have the distance chops to make some noise in their events and extend their seasons another two weeks.
"We've got to get those pieces in there; get them to the national meet," Braman said. "Karen Harvey's ladies are ready, but it's one thing to have 10 at the region meet. How many are going to score at the national meet."
If they can get through the opening rounds at UNF and advance to the championship in Des Moines, the potential is there to chase a top 10 finish; something the program has done just once since 1992.
"We've got to get those pieces in there, get them to the national meet."
"Karen Harvey's ladies are ready, but it's one thing to have 10 at the region meet. How many are going to score at the national meet?"
As Barroilhet told his teammates during a Tuesday squad meeting, "It's time to impose our will."
The same thing applies to the Seminole women.
"There's a lot of value for the women's team and what they do here [at UNF]," Braman said. "We have to start building a top 20 or better team now and maybe if we can get those pieces in there we start believing in a top 10."
That's precisely how the men began building toward their annual championship chase with a fourth-place finish in 2005.
"It's that older group wanting to win a national championship; realizing that window is open and you have a shot," Braman added. "We've got those older guys who came here just to win a championship. Having the older guys, that helps a lot."
There are several ways to follow the Seminoles' chase for NCAA Championship berths. Regularly updates throughout the competition, which begins Thursday at 11 a.m. with the start of field events action, will be shared via Twitter @FSU_Track, or you can check back at the end of each day - the action concludes around 10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday - at Seminoles.com.
Live results can be tracked at www.deltatiming.com and a live stream is planned www.UNFOspreys.com.