TGW: First(-Team) in Flight

March 15, 2016

By Jon Cooper | The Good Word

Bria Matthews will eventually be happy with what transpired over the weekend at the NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships held at the Birmingham Crossplex in Birmingham, Ala.

When she gets to looking back she’ll find there was a lot to like — being named first-team All-America in the long jump (6.39m, 20-11.75), good for seventh) and triple jump (13.16m, 43-2.25, ranking sixth) nearly setting a personal record in the former.

But eventually is not here yet so Matthews is in the process of moving on and looking back only to see what didn’t happen.

“My triple jump wasn’t as good as it usually is so I probably could have done better at that but it was pretty good,” said the freshman from Morrow, Ga., who finished seventh in the long jump and sixth in the triple. “It hasn’t sunk in yet but I plan on improving my PR. I want to get up to like 21’6”, 22 feet in the long jump and like high 44’s in the triple jump. So I’m working towards that.”

Georgia Tech track & field head coach Allen Drosky saw things more positively and put Matthews’ performance in perspective.

“It was an outstanding weekend,” Drosky said. “For any student-athlete to go to Nationals in track and field you’re one of the top 16 athletes in your event. It’s a very high bar. Then to score in that event, to be in the top eight, is an even bigger accomplishment. Then take into account that Bria’s a freshman. She certainly didn’t compete like a freshman.

“A lot of times in our sport we talk about getting to the NCAA National level and often times, the student-athlete has to get their once, experience it and THEN go back a second time with that experience to perform at their best,” he continued. “So for Bria to go in and compete that well, she went there and exceeded expectations. It was a huge weekend for her. An outstanding job by her in competing. A great job by our Coach Nat Page.”

Matthews, who set team-season-highs in the long- and triple, officially came within a quarter of an inch of matching her PR in the high jump (an event in which she came in ranked No. 11 in the country) and would come even closer to blowing away her PR on Friday, then, on Saturday was about seven inches off her PR in the triple (an event she was No. 7 in the nation), but still surpassed both of her totals from two weeks earlier at the ACC Championships, when she won gold medals in both events and was named Women’s Field MVP at the ACC Championships.

She had a good feeling heading into Friday’s long jump.

“I felt really good that day,” said Matthews, who hit for 20’11.75” on her second jump in preliminaries. “I felt really warm, so I thought I could go further than that even though it was pretty much my PR. For the rest of the meet I was trying to improve my form and get a few more inches and get higher up because in Prelims. The distance between third and seventh place, where I was, was two inches. So if I jumped two inches further I would have been in third place going into the Finals.”

She thought she had them and more as well as a new PR on her final preliminary jump, but it was ruled a scratch. She filed a protest at the suggestion of Georgia Tech Assistant Coach Nat Page who viewed his film of her jump, but the protest was upheld.

“It was close. Based off of the video that Coach Page took, it certainly would have moved her up in the standings, probably, to third maybe even second,” said Drosky. “Off the video it looked to be a fair jump. Coach Page really thought it was a fair jump. He asked me about it, I went and protested. They denied the protest and ruled it a foul still, but they said it was very close.”

“They said it was really, really close,” said Matthews, finished five inches from third. “It was so close that at a USATF meet, a professional meet, it wouldn’t have been a scratch but this is NCAAs, so it was a scratch.”

The following day, Matthews took aim at the triple jump, and admitted there was a little trepidation heading into the event.

“I was a little iffy about the triple jump because I hadn’t practiced it that much coming up to the meet so I wasn’t really sure how it was going to go,” she said. “When I was going through the triple jump I was just hoping I could get back to my PR.”

She didn’t quite get there but did finish a solid sixth — two inches shy from a top-five finish.

Matthews certainly looked like she belonged in the competition, never showing the even the slightest trace of freshman jitters — or jitters of any kind.

Drosky credited some of Matthews’ confidence on her not only knowing the Crossplex, having been there with Georgia Tech at the BSC Indoor Icebreaker in early December, then at the Auburn Conference Clash in late January, but also having success there both times. She won the long jump and triple jump at the BSC Indoor then took the triple at the Auburn Conference Clash, recording a PR in the process.

“That Bria had jumped her best jump of the season on the surface at Birmingham, certainly from a mental aspect gave her a lot of confidence going in that she would jump well,” he said.

He also gave credit to her poise, a characteristic she’s shown all year.

“I think Bria has confidence in herself, she has great confidence in Coach Page. and she just has a very easy-going, relaxed aura about her that I think enables her to do well, stay relaxed and stay focused on what she’s trying to accomplish and compete like it’s almost any other meet,” Drosky said. “She knows she can compete at the highest level. She knows that she can handle the competitive environment of the NCAA Championships. Watching the NCAA Championships this past weekend, there were a lot of freshmen that went in, some in other events that were very highly touted. Over two days you watch freshman after freshman struggle, not just to win. They didn’t win but even to make the final. Even to get into the top eight. It’s a very intense environment.”

Matthews used the environment to her advantage.

“It was a lot more people than I was used to because I’ve had meets in Birmingham before,” she said. “It just felt more crowded and more people in the stands and more exciting. You get to watch the races while you compete so it was really interesting, everybody breaking records and getting top world times. So the environment was more exciting.”

Even more exciting is what the future holds for the talented freshman.

“How high her ceiling is, I wouldn’t even begin to guess,” said Drosky. “She has everything that it takes to compete at the highest levels of our sport. I think it’s a case of an outstanding athlete with a tremendous attitude working with a very accomplished coach. So I wouldn’t begin to guess how far Bria can reach.”

The wait to see what’s next may not be a long one. The outdoor season begins Friday, with another trip to Alabama, this time to Tuscaloosa for the Alabama Relays.

Matthews is ready.

“I think the practices are probably going to get harder now because, Coach Page said that it’s going to get harder because we have smaller meets now,” she said. “We don’t have ACCs or Nationals coming up so he’s trying to get us stronger and get us more technically sound so we can compete better when the time does come to compete nationally and in the conference meet.”

Whether she’s ready to compete may be less of an issue than WHERE she’ll be ready to do so. Drosky expects her to expand her repertoire.

“They’re working on some hurdling so I think you’ll see her do some hurdling outdoors,” he said. “[Coach Page] limits how much she jumps and whether she does both jumps at a meet, long and triple, or whether she does just one and even how many jumps she’ll take in competition. He’s cognizant.

“They’d been working on some hurdling even prior to the NCAA Indoor Championships and she adapted well. So I do think we’ll see her do the hurdles in addition to the jumps,” he added. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see her on a relay at some point. But it’s about trying to find that balance of how much. You have to resist the temptation when you have a special athlete like that to try to have them do TOO much. Not try to get her to do too much to help the team that it limits how much she can accomplish individually. It’s about trying to find a balance.”

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