(Article & Photo By Bob Thomas)
EUGENE, Ore. - Junior sprinter Andre Ewers was the guiding force Friday as the Florida State men's track & field team re-emerged as a prominent force at the national level, piling up 25 points in an 11th-place team finish at the conclusion of its NCAA Outdoor Championship competition.
The Seminoles' total is the highest for a team outside the top 10 in NCAA Championships history, excluding the 1982-84 championship meets, where the top 12 places in each event were scored as opposed to the traditional top eight spots.
"We had one whale of a meet," FSU coach Bob Braman said at the conclusion of Friday's rain-soaked affair at Historic Hayward Field. "I couldn't be more proud of our kids. They decided in the fall that it was time for Florida State to be a national power again. We lose a great leader in Austin Droogsma, but the majority of our elite athletes return next year. I can't wait to get the 2019 season started."
Florida State finished one point from a top-10 finish, and just nine points shy of returning to the podium - a team hardware-earning, top-four finish - for the first time since 2012.
Ewers was at the center of the Seminoles' scoring surge on the final day, grabbing silver in the 200-meter dash following a bronze medal finish in the 100-meter dash. Coupled with his anchor leg contributions to the fifth-place 4x100 relay, he contributed 15 points to the cause.
Only thrower Denzel Comenentia of national champion Georgia scored more points (20) among men's meet competitors.
"I'm grateful," Ewers said. "I went out and competed with the best in the nation and I executed my races...I honestly left it all out there on the track."
Ewers was third in the 100-meter dash in 10.19, trailing the Houston duo of Cameron Burrell (10.13) and Elijah Hall (10.17). Forty-five minutes later he came within a whisker of gold in the 200-meter final, losing at the line to Texas Tech's Divine Oduduru 20.28-20.29.
"Like coach [Rick Argro] said, I need to work on my duck," Ewers added.
"Andre showed us the way this week and his teammates responded," Braman said. "Trey Cunningham was a warrior today. He fought like a veteran and knocked off some big guns."
Cunningham, FSU's standout freshman, finished fourth in the 110-meter hurdles out of lane eight in 13.64. That's the best finish by a Seminole over the high sticks since two-time Olympian Arthur Blake was the NCAA runner-up in 1987.
"I'm pretty sure I hit the first [hurdle] pretty good," Cunningham said. "The last five were clean."
That's where he made up ground on the field, but could not quite catch the top three.
"I was always come with the mentality that I want to win," Cunningham said. "I'm OK with how it ended because, not to sound cliché, but I'm just a freshman at this meet. I've competed with all of these guys all year and it has just proven that I can stay with them. I felt pretty happy with it. I was moving good. I don't think I could have done anything different, other than not hit the hurdles...
"I see this as a milestone and there's nothing but up from here."
The day began with the 4x100 relay team of Keniel Grant, Darryl Haraway, Darryl Gay and Ewers splashing their way to a fifth-place finish in 39.37; hindered a bit but some baton-passing issues. The Noles had qualified for the final in 39.00; the eighth-best time in program history.
"We could have been better," said Haraway, a junior competing in his first NCAA Championship final after appearing on 13th-place 2016 quartet. "I'm disappointed a little bit, but we're still All-Americans. ...For sure we're going to get this 400-relay right and we'll get it back to a national championship like Florida State used to be.
"I like the big stage and I know my teammates like big stages. I know I want to feel it again next year. We'll all be back here next year."
So too should junior Armani Wallace, whose season-long battle with a leg issue, cropped up at the worst possible time. Wallace, the two-time defending ACC triple jump champion, was forced to bail out on his first two attempts and passed his final try.
The Noles came into the final day of competition with just two team points, courtesy Droogsma's seventh-place finish in the shot put on Wednesday. Worth noting, the senior's mark of 20.23 meters (66-4.5) was the longest throw ever recorded by a seventh-place finisher at the championship meet.
It was that kind of meet across the board, with the men establishing four new collegiate records and six NCAA Championship meet records. Eight of those 10 marks were set Friday under less-than-ideal conditions.
With a wealth of talent returning, soon to be supplemented by a stellar signing class, the Noles appear to be on their way to returning to elite national status. From 2005-2013, Florida State won two National Championships, had a third vacated and never finished outside the top nine.
Friday's finish was the programs' best since 2013 (ninth).
"Big props to our assistant coaches for bringing us back to the national stage," Braman said. "They all bought into our plan three years ago and we're starting to see the results."
While the rain is expected to return Saturday, the Florida State women won't allow it to dampen their efforts to make noise in the team standings. The Seminoles enter the final day of competition tied for 16th place with six points, courtesy Lauri Paredes' third-place finish in the javelin on Thursday.
Ieva Zarankaite and Shanice Love will get things started in the discus at 6:05 p.m. (ET), followed by FSU's 4x100 relay team of Jayla Kirkland, Shauna Helps, Cortney Jones and Ka'Tia Seymour at 6:32 p.m., when ESPN launches its live coverage.
With the fastest collegiate time in program history (12.86), Jones advanced to the finals of the 100-meter hurdles, which are set for 7:12. Seymour more pull the curtain on FSU's qualifiers when she competes in the 200-meter final at 8:07.
You can follow the Noles via Twitter @FSU_Track and check in on live results at noles.co/2xNZteR.