June 5, 2012
By Bob Thomas, seminoles.com
DES MOINES, Iowa - There will be no easing into the 2012 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships for coach Bob Braman's Florida State teams. The Seminoles jump feet-first into the action Wednesday at 1 p.m. (ET) with decathlete Gonzalo Barroilhet providing the jump-start in the 100-meter dash, the first of his five opening-day events.
"If you need a leadoff hitter, that's a pretty good one to call on," Braman said. "Gonzalo's our leader. He's the fifth-year senior and kicks us off."
Barroilhet, a graduate student making his first NCAA outdoor appearance since finishing third here at Drake University in the 2008 decathlon, is the No. 2 seed overall and one of the reasons the Seminole men are one of the strong contenders to bring home a national team title.
The FSU men are actually projected to win according to Track & Field News' pre-meet form charts, which analyze the season results and project finishing places in each event. The Seminoles, however, will have plenty of erstwhile challengers in three-time defending champion Texas A&M - which edged FSU by a point for the 2011 team title - and rival Florida. Indiana, Arizona and LSU could also be in the hunt for top team honors.
Barroilhet won't be the only Seminole to get underway Wednesday at Drake Stadium. Freshman Stefan Brits will compete in the long jump and junior Michael Fout will close out the night in the 10,000-meter run. Those are the only two events involving Seminoles that will be scored on opening day.
The Seminoles' top-seeded 4x100 relay team, with two key legs - Kemar Hyman and Maurice Mitchell - returning from last year's national championship group, will compete for a spot in the finals when the evening session gets started at 6:30 p.m. Hyman, Mitchell and Horatio Williams, who is also on the 4x100 team, are all lined up in the third of three quarterfinal heats of the 100-meter dash (8:15 p.m.)
Junior Darrin Gibson will also compete in the semifinal round of the 800-meter run in his NCAA Championship debut.
"For the men it's a really big day because it sets the tone and we've got to take care of things," Braman said.
While the Seminole women's team lacks the horsepower to compete for a team title, they have set their sights on a top 10 finish. Sophomore Chelsea Whalen will have an opportunity to put the `Noles on the scoreboard in the javelin.
"You hope she lets it all hang out," Braman said of Whalen, noting that the first-time NCAA qualifier has demonstrated the ability to rise to the occasion in big meets over her first two seasons.
Later in the evening, top-seeded senior Astrid Leutert and freshman Colleen Quigley will toe the line in the semifinal round of the 3000-meter steeplechase. Leutert and Quigley are among six FSU women's distance runners who have made the trek to Des Moines under the direction of their coach Karen Harvey.
"The women's steeple is really tough," Braman said. "It's not ideal, because it's going to be really hot, which favors us, but you've got to come back two days later and run a really, really hard final. It's going to be interesting."
So will the points chase for top team honors over the next four days.
Barroilhet, who has already qualified for the 2012 Olympic Games in London and will represent Chile as he did in 2008, has embraced the role of being the team leader. In addition to the 100, the opening day of the decathlon includes the long jump, shot put, high jump and 400-meter dash. The ACC champion and meet record holder will tackle the 110 hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and 1500 meters on Thursday, a lineup that inarguably includes three of his strong events.
"Gonzalo kicks it off and he's got a big second day, but he's got to get out of the blocks so to speak really well and do a good job in his events," Braman said. "He needs to get in good position so that he can take control of the meet on Thursday."
FSU's championship hopes could get a big lift from Brits and Fout. Braman considers Brits a "a good wildcard for us," while Fout is projected to be among those contending for a top-eight scoring position.
"He is picked for eighth place but his [personal best time] puts him in about fifth place," Braman said. "He's a guy that can be right in the mix."
Getting Gibson through the 800 final out of a solid but not stacked second heat in the 800 would be huge.
"Maybe our wildest of all wildcards in Darrin Gibson, who is making his first NCAA event ever and is ranked 19th out of 24 but got a fortunate heat draw and anything can happen," Braman said. "You score by making the final, so Gibson can technically score tomorrow."
There are multiple ways of keeping up with the Seminoles' exploits throughout the NCAA Championship meet. Live video coverage of Wednesday's action can be found at ESPN3.com or the NCAA.com, while fans can track the action via Twitter @FSU_Track.
A recap of all the action, including photos and interviews, will be available at the end of each day throughout the meet at www.seminoles.com.