May 25, 2012
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Three more Gamecock underclassmen have locked up berths to the NCAA Outdoor Championships after finishing in the top 12 of their respective events at the conclusion of the second day of competition at the NCAA East Preliminary held at Hodges Stadium on the campus of the University of North Florida. Two sophomores - Petra Olsen and Jeannelle Scheper - and freshman Erika Rucker are the latest Gamecocks to lock up bids to nationals, following the previous qualifying marks yesterday by Jarrod Hutchen and Joshua Suttmeier.
With one full day of competition remaining, the Gamecocks have already matched the number of individual qualifiers from last season. The NCAA Outdoor Championships will be held at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa, from June 6-9.
Sophomore Petra Olsen became the third Gamecock to earn a bid to Des Moines after taking 10th overall in the pole vault at 13'3 ½ (4.05m). The national's bid is the first for Olsen after the Swedish national missed all but one meet of the 2011 outdoor season due to injury.
"It feels really good. I've been working hard after being off a year, but it feels good to be back on the track again," Olsen said. "I'm the kind of person that needs a lot of meets and needs to jump a lot. It's felt really good this season."
Freshman Erika Rucker continued to excel in her first collegiate season by advancing to Des Moines in the 400-meter dash at a personal best time of 52.58. Rucker was the only freshman to advance to the finals in the 400-meter dash from the East Preliminary Round, and her time of 52.58 moves her to No. 9 in the Gamecock record books.
Rucker has had a freshman year to remember for the Gamecocks. She was named the SEC Indoor Freshman Runner of the Year and competed at the NCAA Indoor meet in Boise, Idaho, and her outdoor season has been just as successful by qualifying for the NCAA Outdoor meet. She is the first Gamecock freshman to qualify for NCAA's in the 400-meter dash both indoors and outdoors since Olympic gold medalist Natasha Hastings achieved the feat as a freshman in 2005. Her weekend is not done, however, as she will compete on the women's 4x400-meter relay Saturday night in hopes of securing another bid.
"I've been working all this time to break 53 seconds, so finally doing it now feels really good," Rucker said. "Honestly I expected a lot from my freshman year, but not this much. I couldn't have imagined running 52 seconds now."
Sophomore Jeannelle Scheper is another Gamecock who has had an exceptional season. The high jumper was the final Gamecock of the day to advance to Des Moines after being one of just eight athletes to clear 5'11 ¼ (1.81m). The indoor and outdoor school record holder was an indoor All-American this season after taking eighth at the NCAA Indoor meet, and she has a chance to move further up at the NCAA Outdoor meet in two weeks.
"It feels really good to be able to continue my season," Scheper said. "I have two outdoor competitions from the collegiate season after NCAA's are done, and I'm happy that I get to stay competing at such a high level going into June with the start of international season. This has been a great sophomore year for me. I wasn't exactly expecting to jump six feet indoors and outdoors, but it happened and I'm extremely ecstatic about it. I'm happy that I'm making such good progress, and I hope I can continue to improve."
Beatrice Biwott hit a huge personal best in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at 10:13.81 to place 13th, just one spot out of the final qualifying spot for Des Moines. The time improves upon her school record mark and gives the senior her first individual bid to the national championships.
Senior Kelsey McCorkle extended her season and search for an individual bid after taking 17th in the 200-meter dash first round to advance to Saturday's quarterfinals. McCorkle ran 23.78, matching her season best, to advance to the quarterfinals. Sophomore Vashti Bandy ran 24.81 to take 44th.
Dorian Johnson took 19th in the triple jump with a top mark of 48'11 ½ (14.92m) on his final attempt. Freshman Chalese Davis ran 13.73 in the 100-meter hurdles in her first appearance at the NCAA Preliminary Meet.
Freshman Juan Stenner scratched from the men's 400-meter hurdle quarterfinals due to medical issues, preventing the first-year athlete from securing a spot at nationals. Stenner will also likely miss the men's 4x400-meter relay tomorrow, an event that he has paced as the anchor leg for the majority of the season.
The Gamecocks conclude competition at the NCAA East Preliminary beginning with the men's pole vault at 11 a.m. Saturday morning.
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