June 8, 2012
By Bob Thomas, seminoles.com
DES MOINES, Iowa - Uphill climbs entering the final day of the NCAA Championship meet competition have been the norm for the Florida State track & field team over the past four years, which means the Seminole men will be in familiar territory Saturday at Drake University's Jim Duncan Track.
FSU's championship aspirations suffered a blow when Maurice Mitchell and Kemar Hyman settled for third- and sixth-place in the 100-meter dash finals, managing just nine points in an event where they hoped to score a 1-2 finish and the accompanying 18 points.
Instead, the `Noles will head into Saturday's finale tied for 12th with 14 points, 22 behind rival Florida, which seized control with a pair of event wins Friday.
"Really we're not mathematically out of it, but it's going to be tough," FSU coach Bob Braman said. "Florida is in the driver's seat...What we do now is try to win events, like every athlete and every team tries to do, and it's a microcosm of the team championship."
The Seminoles will have plenty of ammunition to mount a challenge and climb the leaderboard when the action resumes. Mitchell is the top seed and the defending national champion in the 200, while teammate Horatio Williams - third here a year ago while running for LSU - should vie for a similar finish.
FSU's 4x100 relay team qualified third for the finals - behind Auburn and LSU - and will run out of lane four in the opening event of the day. Senior Michael Putman, a proven competitor on the big stage and All-American in the shot put last year, will have to contribute to the title chase as well.
Putman is one of the potential "wildcard" scorers Braman had hoped would buoy the Seminoles' championship hopes. Unfortunately, none have been able to break through in the scoring column through the first three days, despite a career-best 5.40 meter pole vault performance by Andrew Lahaye on Friday, which led to a ninth-place finish on misses.
"If we all compete the way LaHaye did today, we've got a chance," Braman said.
After finishing sixth indoors in the triple jump, sophomore Phillip Young (5.85m/52-0) came up two inches and one place short of reaching the finals on Friday.
While the men were unable to capitalize on several scoring changes, the FSU women cashed in as senior Astrid Leutert and freshman Colleen Quigley earned first-team All-American honors in the 3000-meter steeplechase, finishing fourth and fifth. Less than 48 hours after qualifying for the finals, Leutert (10:02.07) and Quigley (10:05.61) stayed with the lead pack throughout the sun-baked finale.
"It was so awesome to watch Astrid and Colleen run with such heart and soul," FSU women's distance coach Karen Harvey said. "In their first NCAA experience, becoming All-Americans is truly a testament to their hard work and courage."
"Last year at this point I was in my worst state, with a broken foot," said Leutert, who is competing in just her second season of steeplechase competition. "I have to be satisfied where I'm at right now."
Quigley's improbable climb to All-American status came in just the fifth steeplechase race of her career - two days after qualifying for the finals in her fourth.
"Honestly I felt like top eight was my ultimate goal, but I was just happy to be in the finals," Quigley said. "I'm speechless. It's amazing. Finishing fifth is more than I could have hoped for... I'm so happy to have had [Astrid] show me the way."
Mitchell tried to put a positive spin on his bronze finish in the 100, which saw the top three runners - Illinois' Andrew Riley, Auburn's Harry Adams and the senior `Nole - all come across the finish line in 10.28 into a minus 2.3 headwind. When the pecking order was sorted out, the difference between Riley's gold and Mitchell's bronze was .005 - five-thousandths of a second.
"I got third like I did last year, but we all tied (on time) so I feel like a champion, still," Mitchell said. "When I didn't see my name first, I knew it was close because I was right there in the mix. We all ran 10.28 and somebody has to win. It came down to the thousandths ... I thank God that I had a chance to go out and score for my team. I really feel blessed."
Hyman, who came into the meet with the fastest wind-legal time in the country, was sixth in a season-slow 10.34.
"I could tell when I was walking up [to the starting line] that it was going to be a strong head-wind, but I didn't pay it any mind going into the race," Hyman said. "Into the race I felt. ... I came out unlucky this time."
Hyman, Mitchell and Williams will likely be joined by Stephen Newbold on the anchor leg for the 4x100 final, where they'll have a chance to settle the score.
"I'm going to take all my frustration out and give a good leg for the guys and hopefully take the title," said Hyman, who will handle the leadoff leg duties.
Mitchell is anxious to turn the page on Friday.
"It's going to hurt, but I think I did what I could," he said. "Tomorrow's looking good. I feel great. I'm healthy. I'm going to go out there in the finals and pray that I can get the stick around and in the 200, defend my title."
Braman has seen strange things happen before on the final day of the championship, but he's become accustomed to seeing the Seminoles at or near the top of the final scoring. FSU has finished worse than second just once since winning their first team title in 2006.
"We've been on the podium so many times - the top four five times in the last six years - we need to be up there receiving a trophy for Florida State," he said.
The FSU women will also have multiple opportunities to improve on their 22nd-place position (9 points) on the final day of competition. Amanda Winslow and Violah Lagat will race in the 1500-meter final, while Kayleigh Tyerman goes to battle in the 5000.
Senior Michelle Jenije, who was second at the NCAA Indoor Championship, is rested a poised to make a play for All-American honors in the triple jump and bolster the Seminoles' shot at a top-10 finish.