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June 9, 2016

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EUGENE, Ore. — The South Carolina men’s track and field team kicked off the NCAA Outdoor Championships Wednesday afternoon at Hayward Field. Two Gamecocks earned spots in Friday track finals, and Josh Awotunde got the team on the board with a podium finish in the shot put.

Even though it was his first career trip to the national meet, Awotunde competed like a seasoned veteran. The sophomore opened his preliminary series of throws by matching his personal best of 18.89 meters (61-11 ¾). After fouling his second attempt, he put himself safely into the final thanks to a new personal best of 19.16m (62-10 ½).

Entering the final round of three throws in sixth, Awotunde fouled on his first two attempts after moving to the finalist’s throw pit, but rebounded for one more special performance. He added almost an entire foot on to his PR that had been set just minutes earlier, reaching 63 feet, nine inches to leap past Jason Cook’s 2009 mark of 63-7 ½ and put him second in program history behind only Brad Snyder’s 17-year-old school record.

Despite missing almost two full months of training and competition due to injury, Awotunde is the team’s first All-American in the event since Jason Cook in 2009.

“It’s really a blessing to be up on that podium today,” Awotunde said after his competition. “I worked hard all season, I had some setbacks, some adversity, but Coach Frye and Coach Sarge (Sergent) always feed us `in adversity you have to come out and you have to pursue your goals even more because setbacks can only hold you back for so long until you get over them and get through them.'”

Also competing in the field events Wednesday was Kaleb Zuidema in the javelin. He would open strong with a throw of 227-5, his third-best mark of the season, but did not advance to the final round of throws. He is honorable mention All-American for the second time in his career, the first coming in 2014.

Out on the track were semifinals for the 200m, and the 110 and 400m hurdles. Dondre Echols will indoor and outdoor All-American in his final season with the team, as the senior qualified sixth overall in the prelims of the 110m hurdles. Already a first-team honoree from the indoor season, Echols ran a time of 13.67 in his heat to advance to the Friday evening finale. He becomes the first Gamecock to make the final in the 110m hurdles since Johnny Dutch in 2010, and can become the program’s fourth champion all-time in the event.

His senior teammate Jermaine Collier joined him in the third heat. Collier ran 13.80 to place 15th overall in the field, securing him second-team All-American honors. That is the third All-American certificate of his career, second outdoors and the second as an individual.

In the second prelim of the day, Jussi Kanervo made his second-straight NCAA championship final of his career in the 400m hurdles. After finishing sixth last season, Kanervo will have another shot at the podium this time around after earning the automatic bid out of his heat. His time of 50.64 put him ninth overall in the field. He is just the second Gamecock ever to make the 400m hurdles final in back-to-back seasons, also joining Dutch (2009-10).

In the final track event of day one, Ncincilili Titi finished 16th overall in the 200m. The sophomore ran a time of 20.88 out of lane eight, and secured second-team All-American honors in his first trip to outdoor nationals.


It will be the women’s turn in the spotlight Thursday, with five events featuring the Gamecocks. First up will be the semifinal round of the 4x100m relay at 4:32 PST, followed by Shelby Freedman in the javelin. Later on, Aliyah Abrams and Tyler Brockington will take to the track in the 400 and 400m hurdles, respectively, before the 4x400m relay prelims close the day’s events.

200m (Prelims)
16. Ncincilili Titi 20.88 (0.3)
4x100m Relay (Prelims)
–. Winters, Echols, Lewis, Titi DNF
110m Hurdles (Prelims)
6. Dondre Echols 13.67 (1.0) q
15. Jermaine Collier 13.80 (1.0)
400m Hurdles (Prelims)
9. Jussi Kanervo 50:64 Q
Shot Put (Final)
7. Josh Awotunde 19.43m | 63-9
Javelin (Final)
20. Kaleb Zuidema 69.32m | 227-5