The University of South Florida track and field teams entered the NCAA East Regional competition at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. ,with a realistic chance to triple the number of competitors the Bulls sent to last year’s NCAA Championships.
They ended up doubling last year’s output of two, qualifying four of the twelve athletes who competed in this past weekend’s competition, making it the largest number of USF individual athletes heading to the championships, according to USF coach Greg Thiel.
Dayana Octavien, Alexis McGaffagan, Chandra Brewer and Jimmy Baxter will all head to Sacramento, Calif., for this year’s NCAA Championships on June 11-14.
“We’re excited,” Thiel said. “It’s nice for the program. It’s exciting because it shows we have a pretty well-rounded program.”
The meet was particularly special for Octavien, the Conference USA Female Athlete of the Year, who qualified in both the discus and hammer throw. The junior placed second in the discus with a throw of 178 feet, 6 inches, earning an automatic bid. In the hammer throw Octavien placed sixth, narrowly missing an automatic berth, but securing an at-large bid, making her the only Bull who will compete in two events.
Brewer, a sophomore and reigning C-USA champion in the shot put, earned an automatic bid in her discipline with a fifth-place finish, throwing 53 feet, 6 ½ inches.
McGaffagan, a junior, cleared 5 feet, 9 ½ inches in the high jump, earning an automatic bid with a fifth-place finish. McGaffagan narrowly missed an at-large bid in the heptathalon, finishing with the 34th best point total in the nation. The heptathlon was not an event at the regional competition.
Baxter was the lone male securing a berth. The junior automatically qualified with a third-place finish in the high jump, clearing 7 feet, 1 inch. This is the third consecutive nationals appearance for Baxter, the longest current streak for any USF track and field athlete.
Thiel said the national competition is a pressure-packed situation for athletes vying for individual national titles as well as All-American status. The four athletes representing USF, Thiel said, should have no problems with that type of atmosphere.
“It’s high pressure, but these four people really excel under high pressure,” Thiel said. “We’ll just tell them to do what got them there. Usually, if you do that, you end up becoming All-American.”
Thiel said the new format giving athletes automatic berths through the regional competition definitely helped the Bulls place multiple athletes, and in fact, the Bulls could have placed five athletes, all female, were held out of the regional competition for violating team rules.