TERRE HAUTE —
Three Indiana State athletes are among the top contenders to win an NCAA championship this weekend at the University of Arkansas.
Indianapolis natives Felicia Johnson and Brandon Pounds are two of the best throwers in the field. Johnson is ranked No. 1 in in the NCAA in weight throw with a distance of 74-feet- 1/4, while ranking No. 2 in the shot put. Pounds is second in the weight throw with his school-record throw of 73-11 3/4.
And Barbados native Greggmar Swift has run a time of 7.67 in the 60-meter hurdles to rank sixth in the NCAA.
Johnson and Pounds know earlier performances mean nothing at this point, but they’re both feeling confident after competing at last weekend’s USA Championships, an event featuring many of the nation’s top professionals.
“Anything that happened before now doesn’t really exist,” said Pounds, who finished fifth at the USA Indoor Championships. “The USA meet was good. It was a good experience throwing against professional throwers. It was a different way to look into things. Just a meet you could go out and work on the things we practice all year.”
Johnson said ISU throws coach Erin Gilreath, a University of Florida graduate who competed on the 2004 U.S. Olympic team, has her ready to contend for a second NCAA Indoor title.
“She set us up to start peaking right now. Everything should go really well this weekend,” Johnson said.
Gilreath, 32, said Thursday that she enjoys having fun and “being goofy” to help keep the immense athletes to maintain a loose approach.
“I just want them to relax. I’m excited because I know they’re peaked and poised to throw well. Just trying to keep things as normal. Still being goofy,” Gilreath said. “As much as I appreciated my coach in college, a lot of times it was too serious. It’s possible to work hard and have fun.”
It seems to be working as Johnson and Pounds are having their best collegiate seasons so far as seniors.
Gilreath has helped Pounds fine-tune his skills in what men’s coach John McNichols describes as a “very precise” endeavor.
“When I first got into college, my dream was to be a shot putter. Now I’ve picked up weight throw and hammer throw. Finding a new touch and passion. Just seeing where it will take me,” said Pounds, who said he will consider pursuing his sport after graduation.
McNichols admires what the senior has done to become an All-America-caliber thrower. Virginia Tech’s Alexander Ziegler is the favorite, ranking first and having finished third, runner-up and third the past three championships.
“Like the hurdles, it’s highly technical. These are big strong men, spinning around three times and donig three turns. Then to precisely throw a 35-pound implement 70-some feet,” McNichols said.
Swift, a junior and already a 2012 Olympian for his native country, is pretty excited to try to beat the best the nation has to offer.
“I think I have the edge on this field due to my experience. I didn’t get the luck of the draw, I drew lane eight. I just have to run fast,” Swift said after a workout Thursday at Fayetteville.
Swift will run in Friday’s semifinals in lane eight.
“All of us have one straight line. Just need to concentrate,” Swift said. “I don’t want to think about my race too early. I just want to go in pumped and fully focused.”
Swift ran his second-fastest time of the season at the Randal Tyson Track Center earlier this season.
“It helped. I’m not a stranger to this facility now. I just have to go somewhere once and I make it my home. Right now, I feel like I’m at Indiana State,” Swift said.