Albuquerque, NM - It is difficult to imagine how the Florida State indoor track & field teams could have put together a more promising performance than the one they delivered Saturday at the Albuquerque Convention Center.
The Seminoles combined for four event victories, registered more than a dozen personal-best and school top-10 marks on the final day of the Cherry & Silver Invitational. More importantly, there were enough promising marks posted to give every indication that the men’s and women’s programs will be well-represented at the March 14-15 NCAA Indoor Championship back here.
“You can go through and check off all of the lifetime bests, national rankings and people that won their events,” FSU coach Bob Braman said. “Even as you check off all of those big-timers that we had today, I feel like every athlete here competed really, really well, especially considering we’re in the third week in January.
“We’re usually a closing a team that starts looking like a Florida State outdoor team in March. I don’t know that we’ve looked like the Florida State we looked like today in January since I’ve been the head coach.”
The highlights were abundant and crossed all event areas.
Senior Dentarius Locke overcame a slight miss-step out of the blocks to finish second in his 60-meter dash season debut, blazing through the finish line in 6.56, which converts to 6.58 at nearly 5,000-feet. Locke was nipped at the finish by Houston’s Cameron Burrell (6.55) in the duel between the nation’s second- and third-fastest short sprinters to date.
“I know what I did wrong and if I would have fixed it, where I would have been,” Locke said. “I have another five to six weeks until NCAA Indoors to make sure I’m right where I need to be.
“Last year I opened up 6.67 in a final and this year I opened up 6.58 with the .02 added and that was my second-fastest time last year. To open up 6.58 I’m getting to be where I need to be. … To drop something that fast this early, I’m definitely blessed and happy with that.”
Like Locke, senior Marecia Pemberton was edged by USC’s Jessica Davis at the finish by .01 in the women’s 60-meter dash, clocking a 7.37 (7.39) for second place. It was arguably her finest performance in a final since undergoing hip surgery in 2011.
Seniors James Harris and Alonzo Russell, along with freshman Michael Cherry, led a 1-2-4 showing in the 400-meter dash, with three of the top six indoor times in school history. Harris won his heat, despite a lot of contact, in 46.43 (46.54, altitude conversion) with the second-fastest mark by a Seminole, with Russell’s 46.44 (46.55) ranking third. Cherry landed the No. 6 mark in his first collegiate 400 at 46.91 (47.02). Harris and Russell rank eighth and ninth nationally.
The Seminole women also excelled in the 400, with sophomore Sage Watson and senior Elizabeth Ichite placing second and fourth overall, each with new personal-bests. Watson finished in 53.42 (53.53), with Ichite crossing in 54.07 (54.18) – marks which rank second and fourth on FSU’s all-time list. Watson’s time stands eighth among Division I runners to date, while Ichite ranks 17th.
“It felt good for an opener,” Watson said, down-playing a performance that obliterated her previous best indoor 400 of 54.36. “I didn’t want to get boxed in though. I think I could have run a lot faster, but just getting back on the track and running, you’ve got to get used to it. .. I’m excited, but I know I should be right where I am right now.”
Associate head coach Ken Harnden, who oversees the sprinters, was quite pleased with the group as a whole.
“For Sage to come out and PR by a second in the first race out of the hole, I’m very happy,” Harnden said. “I feel like she’s starting to trust the training and believe in the program. For Liz, I’m going to say that’s a half-a-second PR and she didn’t execute the race quite the way we talked about it.
“On the men’s side, James Harris – if they weren’t boxing out there he might have run 45 seconds. He’s fit, in shape, experienced and it is showing. He’s leading really well. Alonzo Russell, that’s just a huge jump so I’m really excited about that. He really executed the race plan we talked about. … Michael Cherry had kind of freshman race, but was .04 off his PR so I’ll take it. They’re right where we need them to be.”
As for his short sprinters, he was equally encouraged.
“Marecia Pemberton had a big breakthrough today to come back from the hip surgery and come back to where she feels she can compete,” he said. “Locke ran out of his mind, even though he stumbled on the third step.”
Not to be overlooked, freshmen John Franklin III (6.84) and Cejhae Greene (6.87) registered the 12th and 13th-fastest 60-meter dash times in the preliminary rounds in their collegiate debuts.
Junior transfer Jonathan Reid highlighted another strong day in the field events, delivering the top-ranked triple jump mark en route to his victory. The former Alabama All-American registered a winning leap of 16.25 meters (53-3.75) – the third-best mark in program history - in just his second meet with the ‘Noles.
Chelsea Whalen and Kellion Knibb continued to make strides in the shot put, each registering personal-best marks against a strong field. Whalen finished second with a throw of 16.08 meters (51-9.25) as she continues her chase for the school record. Knibb was fourth at 16.01 (52-6.50) with the fourth-best indoor throw in Seminole history. The pair currently stand 18th and 22nd nationally in pursuit of a top-16 marks and NCAA Indoor Championship berths.
Izehi Ileso turned in her best triple jump mark as a Seminole to place fourth in 12.74 meters (41-9.75), which ranks No. 9 on FSU’s top 10 list.
Sophomore Karly Jackson won her flight of the pole vault with a career-best clearance of 3.87 meters (12-8.25), which ties her with teammate Hannah Acton for fourth all-time by a Seminole. Acton also matched her career-best.
Not to be overlooked, the FSU women’s distance team was a dominant force on the track, beginning with the mile run where the Seminoles grabbed four of the top five finishing spots – and four of the top 11 marks nationally.
Sophomore Georgia Peel won the race with an altitude-adjusted time of 4:38.41 – the fastest mark of the 2014 indoor season to date - and was followed closely across the finish line by Colleen Quigley (4:38.72). Linden Hall (4:42.81) was fourth and Hannah Walker (4:44.49) fifth. They show up in the Division I event rankings at 1-3-7-11.
Quigley came back later to claim the 800-meter win in 2:10.56, with Hall (2:12.37) and Peel (2:13.60) third and fourth.
“Our group effort was really good,” FSU women’s distance coach Karen Harvey said. “We didn’t get a lot of super heavy competition here, but I liked how my girls responded to losing a pacer to the mile at the last second and helping each other as a team.
“I’m so glad we came here and doubled to feel what it’s going to be like to be at nationals. I think the double even gives us more of the adaption to this air and this track. We got everything done we needed to get done. Some of the girls are ahead of where I thought they were. We’re leaving pretty happy.”
So is Braman.
“It’s unbelievable,” Braman said, assessing the body of work over the two-day meet. “I’m a little afraid of how good we were, but I’m excited as to where we could be considering the repetitions we’re done, the number of meets we’ve run and the sharpening that has not been done.
“Each group has its own excitement right now … It’s all rolling right now. It’s exciting from the team aspect.”