NCAA Championships Await Gamecocks in Birmingham

By: USC SID

COLUMBIA, S.C. (USC SID) — The indoor track and field season will come to a close this weekend, with South Carolina competing at the NCAA national championships in Birmingham, Ala. from March 11-12. Five Gamecocks will vie for a national championship across four events.

The meet can be followed live on WatchESPN, with a wrap-up special airing on ESPN2 Sunday at 7 p.m. ET.

THIS MEET…
• The Gamecocks will have three newcomers to nationals (Natasha DicksNcincilili TitiDavid Winters) and two who have already earned All-America status (Dondre EcholsBriana Haith). This year, the championships will be held in a familiar spot for the Gamecocks, who will head to the Crossplex in Birmingham, Ala. for the second time this season. In late January, the team competed in the Conference Clash at the Crossplex.
• The quintet is coming into the meet on a high note, after all five scored at the SEC Championships last weekend and Haith and Echols picked up bronze medals for their efforts.

LAST MEET…
• The Gamecocks faired well at the conference championships, bringing home four medals and improved team scores for both the men and women. In the final team standings, the women finished 11th with 26 points, the best result since 2013. The men wound up ninth overall with 35.33 points, the best result since 2011.

QUOTABLE: HEAD COACH Curtis Frye
Recapping the SEC Championships
“I’m really excited, our kids really laid it out on the line, (they) keep having personal bests and if you keep beating yourself you’ll end up being successful. I’m thrilled about the performance of our kids this weekend, and to move from where we were last year, that’s a process.Some of these kids are so young to the SEC… you can say that we didn’t have a lot of points but we got a lot of character and kids that didn’t come here and fold.”

MAKING THE JUMP 
• This indoor season has seen a breakthrough from the program’s jump team. Of South Carolina’s 24 top-10 marks set so far in 2016, eight have come from the jumps alone. Michael Wamer and Natasha Dicks have provided the highlights, with Wamer moving into fifth all-time in the long jump (24-4 1/4) and third in the triple jump (50-9 1/4) and Dicks claiming the program record in the triple jump (43-9 3/4) and moving up to ninth in the long jump (19-8 1/4).
• Not to be outdone, the high jumpers have stepped up as well. Nakita Gray matched her personal best to win gold at the SEC Championships, and her height of 5-11 1/2 is second-best in school history. Tye Williams jumped 6-11 to move up to sixth in school history.

FIVE GAMECOCKS EARN ALL-SEC HONORS
The Southeastern Conference announced its All-SEC teams on March 7, based on the performances at the conference championships in Arkansas Feb. 26-27. Nakita Gray made the All-SEC first team, Josh AwotundeDondre Echols, and Briana Haith earned second team honors, and Aliyah Abrams made the All-Freshman team.

• Nakita Gray soared to the gold medal in the women’s high jump at SECs, clearing 1.82 meters (5’ 11 ½”). She became the team’s first SEC gold medalist in any jump discipline – men or women – and is the first conference champion in a field event for the women since Kettiany Clarke’s pentathlon championship in 2010. Her mark of 1.82 meters ranked her 20th in the country for the indoor season, and is the second-best mark in school history.
• Earning a place on the All-SEC second team were Josh AwotundeDondre Echols, and Briana Haith. Awotunde won silver in the shot put, after improving his distance on all four of his successful attempts to top out at 62 feet, 3 ¼ inches on his second-to-last throw for a new personal best. He finished over a foot better than the bronze-medal finisher and became the men’s team’s first silver medalist in any event since 2012, and the first silver medalist in the shot since Jason Cook in 2009.
• Echols won the bronze medal in the 60 meter hurdles, running a time of 7.74 in the finals. It was the senior’s best finish ever at the conference’s indoor championship, following up a silver medal at the outdoor championships last summer. Dondre finished the season ranked fourth overall in Division I to qualify for nationals, with a top time of 7.69 that ranks seventh in school history.
• Haith used a big kick in the final 100 meters of her 400 meter dash to claim the bronze medal. Her time of 52.34 was a personal best and moved her up to seventh in school history for the quarter mile. She is the women’s first medalist in the 400 since Brandi Cross in 2010 and qualified for the national meet after ending the season with the sixth-fastest time in Division I.
• Abrams showed just a small sample of why the future is so bright at South Carolina, finishing the season as the nation’s fastest freshman in the 400m. She scored for the team at SECs with a seventh-place finish in the finals, a day removed from running the top qualifying time of 52.60. That time moved her all the way up to 11th in school history for the quarter mile, a placed her 18th in the country for the event this year.

FRYE TO COACH TEAM USA AT OLYMPICS
• South Carolina head track and field coach Curtis Frye will have a chance to add to an already-impressive international coaching career, as he was named to the Team USA men’s coaching staff for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Frye will serve as an assistant, overseeing the sprint and hurdle events.
• While at Carolina, Frye has coached 25 Olympians who have garnered 13 medals at past Olympic Games. In his most recent post with Team USA, Frye oversaw the sprints and hurdles at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow. His group won a medal in every event, taking home nine medals in total (three gold). Earlier in his career he served as head coach of the national team at the 2001 Goodwill Games.
• Also, in 2008, Frye was bestowed the Order of Ikkos Medallion, presented by the United States Olympic Committee. A special order reserved for the coach of an Olympic or Paralympic medalist, Frye received the honor after coaching Jerome Singleton Jr. to a silver medal in the men’s 100-meter dash at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing.

REWRITING THE RECORD BOOKS
• The Gamecocks have been busy making edits to the program’s indoor record book, with 24 top-10 marks recorded this season (13 for the men, 11 for the women).
• The marks have been spread evenly across all disciplines, with at least one top ten mark in sprints (5), hurdles (2), middle distances (3), distances (1), jumps (8), throws (1), pole vault (1) and multis (2).

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