Two facility records, five wins highlight opener

By Bob Thomas

CLEMSON, S.C. – Newcomer Isaac Grimes and junior Jayla Kirkland set Clemson facility records last Saturday as Florida State athletes combined for five victories at its season-opening Orange & Purple Elite meet.

Grimes delivered one of four wins for the top-ranked FSU men, sailing 7.91 meters (25-11.5) on his final long jump attempt. That mark not only took down the previous facility record of 7.82 meters, shared by Florida’s KeAndre Bates and Texas’ O’Brien Waisome, but secured the junior transfer a spot at the NCAA Indoor Championships.

The former Division II NCAA champion from Chadron State also moved to No. 5 on FSU’s all-time list in his first competition in garnet and gold.

“I expected to be around the eight-meter range, so I’m pretty happy with where I ended today,” Grimes said. “I feel a little more relaxed about everything now, so I can go back to practice and figure out the more technical stuff I need to do better the rest of the season.”

Jazmyn Dennis, a junior transfer, started her FSU career by clearing 3.95 meters (12-11.5) to finish third in the pole vault.
Photo by Bob Thomas/FSU athletics

Kirkland ran 7.17 in the 60-meter dash final, breaking the seven-year old facility record previously held by 17-time All-American Dezerea Bryant, to record the victory. The Birmingham, Ala. native not only crushed her previous best (7.24), but moved into the very early NCAA lead with the No. 2 time in FSU history.

Qualifying second-fastest (7.29) for the final behind World Athletics U18 100-meter record-holder Briana Williams’ 7.27, Kirkland exploded from the blocks in the final and won going away. Williams was second in 7.25.

“I felt really good knowing I had a great fall of training with a great coach,” Kirkland said. “I just knew I had done amazing things in training and had no doubt I would come into this meet and do great things.”

It was the lone victory of the day for the 11th-ranked Seminole women in the season-opening rust-buster.

Established Seminole stars Trey Cunningham and Kasaun James delivered victories in the 60-meter hurdles and 300-meter dash, respectively, while freshman Taylor Banks’ debut produced a 60-meter dash title.

Yet the wins alone told only a small part of the bigger story.

On the day the men and women combined for 21 personal-best marks – 13 for the women and eight for the men – and six new entries on the FSU all-time top-10 lists.

Better still, four Noles assured themselves a spot at the NCAA Indoor Championships with marks that have historically never failed to earn one of 16 qualifying spots in each event.

Cunningham, who was named to the Bowerman Watch List, recorded the fastest opener of his three-year collegiate career. The Winfield, Ala. native laid down an NCAA-leading time of 7.61 in the final, backing up his preliminary round 7.65 and significantly eclipsing his previous best season-opening time (7.74).

Junior transfer Caleb Parker kept the pressure on Cunningham from the start, finishing second in a lifetime-best time of 7.64, the No. 2 time nationally and the fourth-fastest mark in FSU history. Junior Tyricke Highman was fifth with his second personal-best of the day, following up his preliminary-round 7.88 by running 7.78 in the final. Highman came into the meet with a personal-best of 7.91 – eighth-fastest in program history – and now sits at No. 6 after posting the eighth-fastest time in the NCAA this season.

“What a spectacular 60-meter hurdles race,” FSU coach Bob Braman said. “Two national qualifiers and another one incredibly close. I can’t say enough about that group.”

James, one of three Noles competing in the rarely-contested 300-meter dash, destroyed the field with a time of 32.85. And while he came up five-hundredths of a second shy of the facility record, James’ mark eclipsed Brandon Byram’s school record time of 33.19, set in 2011 by the multi-time All-American.

There was plenty of pre-race intrigue in the 60-meter dash, which pitted Banks against Georgia’s Matthew Boling, in a showdown of touted freshmen. Boling, who won four gold medals for Team USA at the Pan American U20 Championships this past summer, was the nation’s fastest sprinter as a high school senior. Banks had entered his senior year at Miramar High as the fastest returnee in the 100-meter dash.

The first collegiate match-up between the youngsters went to Banks, who backed up his head-to-head preliminary heat win (6.69-6.74), by prevailing in the final with a new personal-best of 6.67. Boling was second in 6.68.

“I’m really pleased with the way Taylor, and Jeremiah Davis, competed,” Braman said. “You usually don’t handle yourself that well in your first collegiate meet.”

The Seminoles’ top women’s distance runners will open this week at Vanderbilt, where the throws group will open up as well, joined by the jumpers.

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