March 13, 2009
COLLEGE STATION, Texas - South Carolina's first trip to the Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium didn't go quite as expected as the Gamecocks completed the first day of action at the NCAA Indoor Championships Friday on the campus of Texas A&M University.
Traveling without a national favorite to win the 60m hurdles title in Jason Richardson, the 19 Gamecocks that made the trip to College Station were prepared and determined to bring a top 10 finish back to Columbia for both the eighth-ranked women's team and the ninth-ranked men's team. As Carolina concluded the first day of action, the performances given by the athletes were inspired, but Carolina couldn't overcome injury and youth as only two opening day competitors qualified for Saturday's final in their respective events.
Sophomore Johnny Dutch entered the 60m hurdles seeded 10th but tied his season best time at 7.79 to take third in an exciting preliminary round where only 18 hundredths (0.018) of a second separated five athletes in the first heat. Dutch and Stanford's Myles Bradley both ran 7.79's in the first heat with the next three runners crossing at 7.80 and 7.81, leading the official scorers to break it down to thousandths of a second to determine seeding for the final. Bradley came in at 7.783 and Dutch at 7.789; Texas Tech's Omo Osaghae won the second heat at 7.72.
Sophomore Lakya Brookins became the second Gamecock to qualify for a final, as the All-American took eighth in the 60m dash at 7.34. Classmate Shayla Mahan came in 10th at 7.38 seconds. Their races came shortly after redshirt senior Ronnetta Alexander ended her Gamecock career with a time of 8.34 in the women's 60m hurdles, missing the final in the event by one one-hundredth of a second. The season marked Alexander's first back on the track since the 2007 season, a break that was the result of an Achilles injury.
"For Ronnetta to come back and be number nine, one one-hundredth of a second from being a finalist and scoring as a senior, it's a long way back from an Achilles tear and reattachment," Frye said. "The proudest point is she was willing to give that fight. I hurt for her. Now she'll go back and finish up being a pharmacist. She has a lot of accomplishments. She's going to be a pro - not in track but I'm proud of her degree."
The Gamecock women concluded the day in the 400m dash with two strong entries in freshman Nadonnia Rodrigues and junior Brandi Cross, a duo that came in ranked ninth and tenth, respectively. Running in the first heat, Rodrigues's quest to score in her first NCAA meet ended about 100 meters into the run when her recurring hamstring problem became agitated and caused her to fall to the track. Cross took to the track in the next heat and ran a 53.80 that put the five-time All-American in tenth, just outside the eighth place needed to qualify for finals.
"Brandi gave it a good run and came up short," Frye said. "In the 60m we got eighth with LaKya and 10th out of Shayla. We're coming up a little short, but we're so young. Managing this meet is a big thing you have to do. Some of them didn't manage it well. We had a great conference meet, but we're struggling today. The injuries are going to hurt us and our expectations in the women's finish. The big thing is Nadonnia pulling a hamstring."
Besides Dutch, Carolina ran men in two other events Friday. Senior Johnathan Hancock competed as an individual for the first time at the NCAA meet and responded with a 6.75 clip in the 60m dash, one week after earning his bid to nationals with a 6.63 at Virginia Tech. Sophomore Antonio Sales also used a strong last chance weekend to qualify, but his time of 21.43 placed 13th overall. The results of the men's shot put will be released as soon as the event is completed. Senior Jason Cook competed for South Carolina in the event for the first time at the NCAA Indoors.
"This is John Hancock's first track meet (at nationals), and he struggled through it," Frye said. "He ran a legitimate run, but it would have taken his second-best time ever (to make it). Last week the effort was good to get here. It's a lot like basketball - sometimes you play that game to get (to a final) but you leave your best on the floor. I think our kids left a lot at the conference meet and a lot last week. That's the only thing I can say about it. We have a great team, and we still think we have a great shot to do well."
South Carolina will compete in five events Saturday. Dutch and Brookins will race their finals, and Michael Zajac will compete in the men's weight throw. The competition will end with the men's and women's mile relays. The Gamecock men currently hold the nation's third-fastest time in the event and will run Quentin Moore, Dutch, Obakeng Ngwigwa and Aaron Anderson. The Gamecock women's relay team enters with the nation's top time this year after winning the SEC title. Sophomore Gabrielle Glenn will run in place of the injured Rodrigues with Cross, Breehana Jacobs and Porche Byrd also running for Carolina.
"Our girls have to find a way to do well in the mile relay," Frye said. "We're favored and now we're without our number one girl (in Rodrigues). That's a challenge, but we still have goals that can be attained."
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