James Moves to Nationals as One of Nation's Elite Hurdlers

June 3, 2009

ORLANDO, Fla. (www.ucfathletics.com) - UCF junior Tiki James (Miami, Fla.) picked the right time to have the race of her life. Prior to the 100-meter hurdles final of the NCAA Track & Field East Regionals last Saturday, James was in the starting blocks with six of the top-25 hurdlers in the country prior. However, James was not intimidated or nervous, knowing she belonged in the elite class.

"I was trying not to focus too hard or get sidetracked," said James. "I was not looking at who was in the race or what the other athletes were doing. I try not to pay attention to who is in the race. When I got to the line I knew it was time to go."

Her confidence and aggressiveness showed as the junior raced out to the lead in the event, a lead she held until the eighth hurdle, and crossed the finish line in second place to qualify for the NCAA Championships. James crossed the line in 13.03 seconds; a time that not only shattered her own previous school record but also put her among the six fastest 100-meter collegiate hurdlers in the country entering nationals.

"It was kind of an out of body experience," said James. "I didn't realize how fast I was going until I actually finished the race, but I did notice when I got to hurdle eight that I was in the front and I thought `Oh my gosh I am in the front' and it threw me off for a split second. Had I not had that thought who knows what would happen, but I do know that I can go so much faster if I really believe that I am supposed to be in the front."

It has been a long time coming for James. When she decided to come to UCF, it meant her third college and third track program. However, becoming a Knight also meant reuniting with UCF head coach Caryl Smith Gilbert, who had had recruited and coached James while an assistant at Tennessee.

"My first couple years of college were tough because coming out of high school I had won all the time and was ranked number one in the country at some point," said James. "Going to college and getting beat bad kind of tore me down, but I think that I went through that so when I got to this point I would appreciate it that much more."

James, who had to sit out the 2008 season after transferring from Miami, has benefitted from the reunion with Smith Gilbert.

"She has helped me grow up so much," James added of Smith Gilbert. "I always knew at some point she would be my coach. She has made me very independent, and I owe her a lot for that. She has been a big part of my growth on and off the track. I am happy I am here now, and I am looking forward to even better things in the future."

The junior broke the school records in both the 55- and 60-meter hurdles during the indoor season. At the NCAA Indoor Championships in March, James took fifth place in the 60-meter hurdles to earn All-American accolades. During the outdoor season, she has been a consistent performer and initially broke the school record in the 100-meter hurdles with a time of 13.20 seconds at the Penn Relays.

Having proven she is among the nation's best hurdlers, James is excited for the opportunity that lies ahead of her at nationals. With a strong performance, she can become the first UCF athlete to be named both an indoor and outdoor All-American.

"I do not really worry about the rankings that much because it is always more about how you do on that day and how you prepare mentally," James said. "I know that if I go out there and give it my all and set a new personal best that I will be in good position. I feel good that I am at the right place at the right time and I am starting to peak. The most important thing right now is getting ready mentally. I am just going to try to block everything out and stay focused within those two white lines, and if I do that I should be in pretty good shape."

The NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, hosted by Arkansas, run from June 10-13 in Fayetteville, Ark. James is one of five Knights that will be competing at nationals. Others competing for UCF will be senior Dione Thomas (Jacksonville, Fla.) in the triple jump, juniors LaKendra Thames (Winter Garden, Fla.) and Kelsey Poljansek (Milton, Kan.) in the discus and sophomore Lizzie Harris (Miami, Fla.) in the high jump.

Prior to this season, the program had just one representative at the NCAA Championships, LesSundra Ford (high jump) in 2004.

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