May 30, 2009
GREENSBORO, N.C. (www.ucfathletics.com) - Junior Tiki James (Miami, Fla.) and senior Dione Thomas (Jacksonville, Fla.) earned spots in the NCAA Championships as the UCF track and field team concluded action at the NCAA East Regionals in Greensboro, N.C. UCF sent a school-record nine athletes to the regionals, with three earning automatic berths to nationals.
As a team, UCF finished in a tie for ninth with Virginia with 24 points. Florida State won the regional championship with 71 points with Penn State (61), Miami (51), Florida (48) and Virginia Tech (42) rounding out the top five.
James and Thomas, who both also broke the previous school records in their respective events on Saturday, join junior LaKendra Thames (Winter Garden, Fla.) as the Knights' automatic qualifiers. Thames qualified Friday with a fourth-place finish in the discus. Prior to this season, the UCF track and field program had just one athlete qualify for the NCAA Outdoor Championships. LesSundra Ford qualified in 2004 in the high jump.
"We had a great day today," said second-year head coach Caryl Smith Gilbert. "It looks like we are going to have between three and five people at nationals and that is a big step for our program. Overall, we finished ninth in the meet and we were not trying to score points. We were just trying to do our best and qualify as many athletes as possible for nationals."
In the finals of the 100-meter hurdles, James had the most impressive performance of her career with a second-place finish in a stacked field of some of the nation's best hurdlers. The junior transfer earned eight points by jumping out to a strong start and crossing the line in 13.03 seconds, 17 one-hundredths of a second ahead of her previous school record. Virginia Tech's Kristi Castlin won the race with a time of 12.89.
"Tiki ran an impressive 100-meter hurdles race to finish second," said head coach Caryl Smith Gilbert. "She led until hurdle eight before letting up a little with two hurdles to go. She has not even gotten close to her potential or close to what she can do this year. We are excited to see her compete in a very competitive field at nationals."
"My race was a combination of a lot of things today actually - faith in myself, my coach and God and having perserverence because it has been a long road and it finall all came together for me," James said. "When I crossed the line I knew it was going to be a fast time because I was right there. I could feel it in the race because I was aggressive and focused so I was just waiting to hear what they had to say [about the time]."
In the triple jump, Thomas almost saw her season come to an end after two subpar jumps. However, the senior came through on her third attempt, posting the best mark of her career and a school record at 43-5.75/13.25m. The Jacksonville native finished fourth in the event to score five points and automatically qualify for nationals.
"Dione Thomas really did a great job mentally putting things together after yesterday's long jump," Smith Gilbert added. "She is starting to really become comfortable with the event."
Harris was strong in the high jump and was part of the final six athletes remaining after clearing a jump at 5-10.0/1.78m. The sophomore could not crack into the top five, however, and finished sixth in the event for three points. Despite not being an automatic qualifier, Harris is in strong position to qualify for nationals based on the NCAA descending order list.
"Lizzie was close to a PR and is in a very good position to get to nationals," said Smith Gilbert. "We look forward to having her with us.
Thames and fellow junior Kesley Poljansek (Milton, Kan.) competed in the shot put. Poljansek threw 48-9.0/14.86m in her first throw to advance past the first three attempts. The junior finished ninth overall in the event. Thames finished 17th with a top throw of 46-9.0/14.25m.
The NCAA Championships, hosted by the University of Arkansas, will be held in Fayetteville, Ark., from June 10-13.
"For our freshmen they were able to learn some things with this experience at regionals," said Smith Gilbert. "Sometimes in winning there is losing, but also sometimes in losing there is winning because you learn things about yourself and can become a better competitor. I am proud of all of their accomplishments so far this season. We have had a great year and with the recruits we have coming in next year should be a real exciting time for UCF."
For the latest news on the Knights, log on to www.UCFAthletics.com - the official site for UCF varsity sports. The site, which also contains ticket and Golden Knights Club donor information, is also the home of UCF's new online apparel store. Also visit www.UCFPhotos.com, the exclusive fan source for UCF action sports pictures.
NCAA East Regionals - Day 2
Greensboro, N.C. - Irwin Belk Stadium
May 30, 2009
4. Dione Thomas, 43-5.75/13.25m - N (5 points)
6. Lizzie Harris, 5-10.0/1.78m (3)
2. Tiki James, 13.03 (+0.3) - N (8)
1. Florida State, 71
2. Penn State, 61
3. Miami, 51
4. Florida, 48
5. Virginia Tech, 42
6. South Carolina, 37
7. Connecticut, 35
8. North Caroilna, 25.50
T9. UCF, 24
T9. Virginia, 24
N - automatic qualifier for nationals