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Jan. 20, 2011

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By Miquel Jacobs
Media Relations Assistant

The first week of the 2011 Gamecock track and field season is in the books and it was a strong opening week for Coach Curtis Frye’s South Carolina teams. Each week here on we will provide you with a variety of updates ranging from practice reports to student-athlete features to storylines to video interviews to everything going on in the world of Gamecock track and field. Our first report will provide an opening week breakdown of the different events that competed at the Virginia Tech Invitational as well as an overview of your Gamecocks in the national rankings.

Perhaps the most talked about performance in the opening week was that of the senior sprinting duo of Lakya Brookins and Shayla Mahan. Brookins ran her way to SEC Runner of the Week honors after her 60m dash time of 7.25 gave her one of only two NCAA automatic qualifying times of the year in the event and made her the only SEC women’s runner to have an automatic qualifying time this early in the season. Equally as impressive was Mahan who now ranks sixth in the NCAA in the 200m and seventh in the 60m with times of 23.82 and 7.33. Also on the women’s side, we saw true freshman Sanura Eley-O’Reilly burst onto the scene with top five finishes in all three events (300m, 400m, 4×4) that she participated in. Her run of 55.20 in the 400m makes her the SEC freshman leader and is the third-fastest time in the nation for a freshman, while she also ranks No. 14 overall for all classes in the event.

Not to be outdone, the men were led by returning All-American Antonio Sales, a senior 200m specialist who opened the year with a light race at 21.43. A trio of freshmen also posted some of the top newcomer times in the conference in Chris Royster, Alex Loose and Clayton Gravesande. Royster and Loose both featured in the 200m and are now ranked fifth and eighth for freshman in the SEC. Gravesande’s 400m time of 48.99 is the third-best for a freshman in the league.

No worries Gamecock fans, with a return to the Rector Field House this weekend, expect to see your Gamecock sprinters continue to climb up the charts with All-American veterans Aaron Anderson and Andre Carter on the track in addition to Chris Maxwell. Gabrielle Glenn, Kelsey McCorkle, Nadonnia Rodriques and Tatiana Fisher will hit the track this weekend along with newcomers such as Vashti Bandy and Amber Allen that Coach Kevin Brown has begun working with in Columbia. In the hurdles, Janica Austin may make her first appearance of the season in the 60m hurdles.

Coach Stan Rosenthal’s squad featured a solid mix of underclassmen and upperclassmen in the first week of the season, particularly in the 800m run with sophomore Sierra Henderson running 2:17.70 and freshmen Liz Locke and Scola Jepngetich also posting some of the early top times in the league. SEC steeplechase champion Beatrice Biwott had a solid start in the mile run and 3000m run, and junior Nicole Rheinlander holds the 26th-fastest time in the country in the 5000m run after her first race of the season. Two sophomore men also competed last week in Alex Bermudez and Robert Razick. Expect to see them continue their work in the middle distances this weekend at the Hokie Invitational.

Heralded as one of the top incoming women’s vaulters in the NCAA, freshman Petra Olsen had a first meet that promises good things from the Swede. Olsen topped out at 12’9 ½ (3.90m) last weekend, a mark that is tied for the national freshman lead and immediately pushes her into fourth in the Gamecock indoor record books. Her performance was the best career-opening performance for a Gamecock vaulter, and the trio Olsen, Allie Nicosia and Angie Rummans is one that has the potential to continue the ever-improving pole vault program under former Olympian and NCAA record-holder Lawrence Johnson. For the men, Matt Shuler cleared 16’1 ¼ (4.91m) in his first jump of the season, and he should continue to improve after earning bronze medal honors at the 2010 SEC Indoor Championships.

David Wilkins winning a jump-off in the high jump was the first bright spot of Coach Delethea Quarles’s jumpers, and triple jumpers Lincoln Carr and Dorian Johnson continued that with their performances in the opening week. Wilkins, a sophomore, took the victory at 6’10 ¼ (2.09m), already surpassing his top indoor mark of the 2010 season. Behind him was freshman Chris Sharp at 6’4 ¾ (1.95m) to give the men another 1-2 punch like it had last season before the graduation of Scott Pierce. In the horizontal jumps, Carr resumed his ever-reliable career, which speaks to the work ethic of the North Carolina native given that he is just in his second collegiate season. His triple jump mark of 50’10 ¾ (15.51m) nearly matches his 2010 season high when he placed sixth at the SEC Indoor Championships as a freshman. True freshman Dorian Johnson ranks third among SEC freshmen in both the long jump and triple jump. Both will jump again this week along with freshmen Chris Sharp, Joshua Jones and junior Jarrod Hutchen.

Returning All-American Michael Zajac has been at South Carolina since his 2007 redshirted season, and each year the Lynchburg, Va., native has steadily risen among the ranks of the nation’s best. Now in his final year of eligibility, Zajac returns as the undisputed leader of Coach Mike Sergent’s throwing corps. Zajac has been relied upon the past three seasons to provide the Gamecocks points at both the SEC and NCAA meets in the weight throw and hammer throw, and after continually stepping up to the plate, big things are expected from him in 2011. In what was his first time picking up the 35-pound weight since the summer, Zajac claimed the win at Virginia Tech last week with the nation’s sixth-best toss at 65’9 (20.04m).

Louis Day and Andrew Finely, two track members from the Northeast, had their coming-out parties last season as each performed well in the shot put at the conference level. The goal of both will be to score for Carolina at the SEC meet this season, and both have put in the required effort to make that work.

The women’s trio of Stacee Roberts, Breanna Radford and Katie Vuckovich all opened the year in the shot put last weekend, and two of the three already surpassed their 2010 season best performances. Vuckovich and Radford each opened up the year better than their top throws of last season, and with continued progress from all three along with senior Aimee Kodat, we may see points at the SEC meet from your Gamecocks. All three will compete this weekend in the shot put and the weight throw.

South Carolina returns to action this weekend when the team returns to Blacksburg, Va., to compete in the Hokie Invitational. The team will then host its first meet of the season next Wednesday, January 26th before traveling to Texas A&M to compete at the same facility where this year’s NCAA Indoor Championships will be held.

Be sure to check back with us next week for a video feature and your first Gamecock student-athlete profile!