May 25, 2016
JACKSONVILLE, FLA. – A ticket to the NCAA national championship awaits the South Carolina track and field team as it travels to the East Regional championships this weekend. The Gamecocks send 23 individual athletes and three relay teams to the meet, hosted by the University of North Florida. Competition begins May 26 and runs through May 28 at Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville.
The meet welcomes the top 48 athletes in the region for each individual event and the top 24 relay teams. There will be a preliminary round to cut the field to 24, then there will be “finals” for the individual events where the top 12 finishers in that round will qualify for the NCAA national championships in Eugene, Oregon.
The Gamecocks enter regionals with six individuals ranked in the top 10 of the region, three each for the men and women. For the men, Dondre Echols (5th in the region) comes in after winning silver in the 110m hurdles at SECs and has redemption on his mind after a freak injury during warm ups of last year’s regional meet cost him a shot at nationals. Joining him in the event will be Isaiah Moore (5th) and Jermaine Collier (16th), giving the team an outstanding chance at sending all three through.
Jussi Kanervo aims to not only book his third-straight trip to nationals in the 400m hurdles (ranked 7th in the region), but also use this meet as another opportunity to reach the Olympic qualifying standard for his home country of Finland. He’ll be joined in the intermediate hurdles by sophomore Greg Chiles. For the other track events, the men will have competitors in the 100, 200, 400 and 800m events. Ncincilili Titi and David Winters will pull double duty in the 100 and 200, Ryan Bermudez will go in the 400, and freshman Otis Jones will race in the 800 after running the race of his life at SECs.
In the men’s field events all four throw disciplines are covered, with Josh Awotunde pulling double duty in the shot put and discus. The sophomore is still on the road back after missing almost two months due to injury, but after scoring in both events at SECs, Awotunde appears ready to make his first trip out west for nationals. Kaleb Zuidema hopes to join him out of the javelin competition, and after cracking a new personal best to finish fourth at the conference meet, Zuidema could very well make his second appearance in Eugene. Clarence Gallop came just five feet from qualifying in the hammer throw last season, and will have a chance at qualifying in his second go-around. Wrapping up the field events is Simon Gyllensten, a January enrollee who is already ranked in the program’s top 10 all-time for the pole vault.
On the women’s side, three Gamecocks qualified in the women’s quarter mile, led by freshman Aliyah Abrams. She finished fourth at SECs behind the program’s ninth-fastest time in school history (52.04). She’ll be joined by two of her 4x400m relay teammates, Erika Rucker and Precious Holmes. Both women have overcome early season injuries and are looking to peak at regionals. The trio joined with Tyler Brockington at the conference meet to win silver in the 4×4, and enters regionals as the three-seed in the mile relay.
Brockington will be competing individually as well, as she comes into the weekend ranked 12th in the 400m hurdles for the region. Also in the hurdles will be Chalese Davis, who will run in the 100m high hurdle event.
The women have high hopes out in the field events, headlined by Natasha Dicks in the triple jump. The junior matched the school record of 44 feet, two inches to win bronze at the SEC meet, and enters as the fifth seed at regionals. Shelby Freedman had the best day of her career at the conference meet, throwing 168 feet in the javelin to leap all the way up to ninth on the regional list. Last but not least is Sarah Graham, who matched her PR of 5 feet, 10 inches in the high jump at Georgia this spring to qualify 25th for Jacksonville.
For up-to-the-minute information all weekend, follow @GamecockTrack on Twitter.