Top Marks and Four Wins Pace Gamecocks At Texas A&M Challenge
Jan. 29, 2011
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By Miquel Jacobs
COLLEGE STATION, Texas - South Carolina had big wins from Michael Zajac, Matt Shuler, Kierre Beckles and Lakya Brookins as the team concluded competition Saturday at the Texas A&M Challenge held at the Gilliam Indoor Track. The meet pitted four teams from the Big XII - Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Kansas State - against four team from the SEC - South Carolina, Florida, Ole Miss, Georgia - and while the Big XII won the meet, Carolina's individual performances were not to be outshone.
Returning to the site where he earned his first career All-America honor, Zajac came half an inch away from setting a new career high, but his throw of 69'7 ½ (21.22m) was good enough to do three major things here in his senior season: it won the Texas A&M Challenge, it kept him undefeated on the year and it moves him to No. 2 in the NCAA this year while heading into the meat of the indoor season schedule.
"It was great on his part," South Carolina head coach Curtis Frye said. "We had two men win today and both are seniors. That's what's supposed to happen. Seniors are supposed to come through. It was Michael's third throw of the year, and we think we have something special going with him. We think this will be a special year for Mike."
In the same facility where she won the 2009 NCAA 60-meter indoor title at a Gilliam Indoor Track facility record time of 7.13, Brookins set the Texas A&M Challenge meet record with her run of 7.26 in the prelims to take first in the opening round and bested it with a time of 7.24 in the finals to run her third and fourth NCAA automatic qualifying times of the season. Shayla Mahan placed seventh at 7.50 after running 7.47 in the prelim.
"Going head to head with one of the top sprinters in the country in Jeneba Tarmoh from Texas A&M and winning, and also beating Scottesha Miller from Oklahoma, that's a big win," Frye said of Brookins. "Those are the people you have to beat if you're going to win an NCAA championship. Running two 7.20's in one day is great. She's coming along well."
Junior transfer Kierre Beckles earned a big win for the SEC in the 60-meter hurdles, and senior Janica Austin rebounded from the prelims to take third overall in the finals. Beckles raced to a time of 8.41, and Austin ran 8.50. Also on the track for Carolina's women was a top five finish and personal best for Beatrice Biwott in the 3000-meter run (9:39.97) and a top 10 finish for Sierra Henderson in the 800-meter run (2:12.81).
"Kierre, it's her first time to run the hurdles away from home," Frye said. "We just got her cleared to compete. She's a little behind the rest of the girls in the country that are at the same level as her, but we think she may end up being an NCAA qualifier. We need her to come through. Janica is getting back in form. She started out this year slow, but this was a breakthrough run for her."
A final victory for the Gamecocks came in the pole vault pit where Shuler posted a career high for the second consecutive week. Shuler moved into the nation's top 10 in the event this year with his clearance of 17'3 ¾ (5.28m), a mark that ranks No. 4 in school history and pushes Shuler to the top of the SEC list for jumps this season. On the women's side, freshman Angie Rummans took fifth at 12'6 ¾ (3.83m).
"Matt Shuler had a good vault," Frye said. "We have a good tradition in the pole vault. He's been challenged and has worked hard this year. He's around 275 pounds in the power clean. He's worked extremely hard to move up and be one of the strongest athletes on the team, and it's showing in the pole vault. He's using bigger poles and is stronger than he's ever been."
Carolina's freshman duo of Sanura Eley-O'Reilly and Clayton Gravesande continue to perform well in the women's and men's 400-meter dashes as both took second overall Saturday in their respective events. On the women's side, Eley-O'Reilly was the runner-up at 54.61, and teammates Nadonnia Rodriques and Amber Allen placed 10th and 12th, respectively. On the men's side, Gravesande was the runner-up at 47.65 with Andre Carter and Aaron Anderson also earning top 10 finishes.
Sophomore David Wilkins placed fourth in the men's high jump with a clearance of 7'0 ¼ (2.14m), while the women's counterparts of Staley Foster, Kayla Blake and Jeannelle Scheper also performed well. Foster and Blake tied for fifth at 5'5 ¼ (1.66m) while Scheper took seventh at 5'3 ¾ (1.62m).
In the horizontal jumps, Lincoln Carr placed fourth in the triple jump at 49'9 (15.16m). Freshman Dorian Johnson took sixth in the long jump at 22'7 ¼ (6.89m). Johnson also competed in the triple jump, finishing seventh at 45'10.
In the men's 60-meter dash, freshman Chris Royster led the Gamecocks with a time of 6.94, placing him 11th and in front of teammates Antonio Sales (17th 7.04) and Eyong Oma (21st, 7.21). The 200-meter dash had Royster leading the Carolina effort at 21.60, and Sales ran 21.64 as the two finished ninth and tenth.
"We had a great meet on our men's side" Frye said. "We are right on schedule where I thought we'd be. We're a little behind with Antonio in the 200-meter, but the rest are right about where they should be. If David Wilkins gets another two inches in the high jump, he's in the national championships. We're having some good things happen with our kids."
Stacee Roberts, Breanna Radford and Katie Vuckovich were the Carolina women's throwers, and the trio competed in the shot put and weight throw Saturday. Radford led Carolina in the shot put after having a breakthrough throw at 47'5 (14.45m), and Roberts led the Gamecocks in the weight throw with a mark of 55'3 (16.84m) to also move herself up the list.
The 1,600-meter relay teams competed in the final events of the day. The men's relay team of Aaron Anderson, Clayton Gravesande, Chris Royster and Andre Carter took fourth at 3:10.90. The women's relay team of Vashti Bandy, Nadonnia Rodriques, Kelsey McCorkle and Sanura Eley-O'Reilly placed sixth at 3:46.54.
"Our kids are stepping up and challenging themselves in big meets," Frye said. "Our kids came through and ran hard."
South Carolina heads to New York City next weekend to compete in the prestigious New Balance Collegiate Invitational at The Armory.