First-Timers at NCAA Nationals Thrilled to Make Their Mark
June 4, 2018
Qualifying for the NCAA Outdoor Championships means you’re good enough to compete against some of the world’s best, and it’s especially exciting for those student-athletes making their first trip to historic Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. South Carolina qualified six individuals and two relay teams for the 2018 NCAA Outdoor Championships June 6-9.
“I’m really excited, and I can’t wait to get there,” said Yann Randrianasolo, a senior long jumper from Toulouse, France. “I missed it last year. I knew I could do better after that. It’s the goal for every student-athlete to make it to nationals.”
“I’m excited,” said Stephanie Davis, a freshman relay runner from Gaithersburg, MD. “I remember watching the last heat of the 4×100 (at NCAA Regional meet), and we’re waiting for the times to go through. Once we saw the last time, we were screaming, ‘Yes! We’re going to Oregon!’ We were jumping up and down.”
Lissa Labiche, a redshirt sophomore high jumper from the island country of Seychelles is going to nationals for the first time, but it’s not the first time she will perform on a big stage after competing in the last two Olympics (London 2012, Rio 2016).
“That helps me because I have a lot of experience,” Labiche said. “I’m not scared to do what I want to do. I want to win, so I’m not afraid to put all of my strength and energy into winning it. I am very excited to be going.”
Labiche was outstanding at the NCAA Regional in Tampa, clearing 1.70 meters, 1.75 meters, and 1.80 meters without a miss, which was especially satisfying after an injury made her a non-factor at the SEC Outdoor Championships a few weeks earlier.
“That’s how I mentally prepare myself, so I can jump and make it on my first try,” Labiche said. “I wouldn’t say it was easy, but I try very hard to make it to nationals and I’m happy. It was a great meet. I had to bounce back from SECs. I worked hard when I got back, and made it to regionals and now I’ve made it to nationals.”
Just being out there on Hayward Track where all those Olympians have run, that’s going to be a good experience.Stephanie Davis
There was a little more drama for Randrianasolo, who was neck and neck with several would-be qualifiers heading into his final long jump attempt. He made the most of that opportunity with a jump of 7.82 meters, which was the third best mark that day to qualify for nationals.
“I told myself to take a deep breath and just jump,” Randrianasolo said. “I tried to be relaxed. As soon as I took off from the pit, I knew this one was going to be good. I just had to do a good landing, and it would be OK. When I got out of the pit, I knew it was good.”
Davis helped the 4×100 and 4×400 teams run their season best times at the NCAA Regional to qualify for nationals. Although she and her teammates had to watch two more heats after their first great run to make sure their time wouldn’t be knocked out, she was confident they were on their way.
“It wasn’t too hard to sit and wait because we ran a personal record, and I just knew we were going to go to Oregon with that time,” Davis said. “Coming in, I knew if we ran 44-flat, we were going to make it.”
Each student-athlete has taken a different path to become great in their event, but a common thread for all of them is the joy they still have for the sport they first fell in love with as children.
“I like the feeling where it’s kind of like you are flying,” Randrianasolo said. “I’m like a little kid. I like to jump everywhere. It’s a nice feeling to feel like you can fly a little bit.”
“I tried every sport growing up,” Labiche said. “I fell in love with high jump because it’s about the individual. You are depending on yourself. The toughest part is taking off from the ground. Every time the bar goes higher, you have to work to get over that bar. When I start running, I’m focused on jumping. When the bar gets higher, I like for people to give me some help. I really like when my teammates or the crowd give me applause before I go. It feels good when you get over the bar. You know you’re in a good place.”
“Running when you’re young is fun because you don’t have anything to worry about. You just run,” Davis said. “As you grow up, you’re introduced to things like technique, structure, and form. The things I like about the relays are the excitement, the teamwork, and the commitment. It’s different than the individual races because everybody has a part that they have to do.”
While each was talented in their event before they arrived on campus, the Gamecocks are thankful to their coaches for helping them improve so they could get to where they now are.
“Coach Dee (Assistant Coach Delethea Quarles) was working hard to get me to bounce back after SECs,” Labiche said. “We talked about what happened. She is really nice. I think of her like a mom because she is very encouraging.”
“Coach Dee is the kind of coach who really listens to you,” Randrianasolo said. “She is very focused on the communication between the coach and the athlete. She takes the time to listen to me, and she’s not afraid to change things to make me improve. She has a good method. This place makes you feel like you are part of a family.”
“Coach Frenchie (Assistant Coach Hadrien Choukroun) has really helped me because I have a lot of anxiety when I run the 400,” Davis said. “I don’t know why. I don’t get that way with any other race. I go to Coach for advice, and he really helps keep me calm and collected.”
As they make their away across the country in their quest for a national championship, the first-timers to Oregon will try to keep their focus and can’t help but think about what it would mean to stand on the podium.
“There would be a great smile on my face,” Randrianasolo said, while sporting a huge grin. “It would be a dream come true. I’ll be alright because I felt like I should have made it last year. I just know if I can put it together, I can do something great. I’m really focused.”
“I don’t know how I’m going to feel once I get there, but hopefully I’m excited and focused at the same time,” Davis said. “I’m excited about the experience most of all. Just being out there on Hayward Track where all those Olympians have run, that’s going to be a good experience.”
“It would be a great feeling because it’s my first year here,” Labiche said. “Qualifying for nationals is a big thing. It would be great because I’ll also be representing my school. I just keep it together and don’t put pressure on myself. I want to enjoy the meet and enjoy the jump. You’re around great people, so I think I can keep it together.”