FROM ALSO-RAN TO ALL-AMERICAN?

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Williams (left) with Tussing after qualifying for the NCAA Championships.

Williams (left) with Tussing after qualifying for the NCAA Championships.

RICHMOND, Va. – Jaleesa Williams’ relationship with the discus has been a relatively short one, but her legacy in the event could last a long time.

Williams qualified for the NCAA Championships June 5-8 in Eugene, Ore. with three monster throws last weekend at the NCAA East Preliminary meet in Greensboro, N.C., obliterating school records and her own frustration in the process. Her second throw of the day traveled 52.23 meters (171’ 4’’), a personal-best by three meters. Williams, a redshirt junior, is the first thrower in program history to reach the NCAA Championships.

Williams’ breakthrough performance in Greensboro underscored her four-year renaissance in the discus. When VCU Throwing Coach Ethan Tussing recruited Williams, it was mainly for her abilities as a shot putter. Discus was somewhat of an afterthought. That’s because Williams’ performances in the discus were, according to her, less than elite.

“It was horrible,” Williams says, punctuating the assessment with a hearty laugh. “It was so bad.”

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PORTER, WILLIAMS BOOST VCU TRACK

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VCU junior Jaleesa Williams poses in front of her school-record mark at the NCAA East Regional last week.

VCU junior Jaleesa Williams poses in front of her school-record mark at the NCAA East Regional last week.

RICHMOND, Va. – Two VCU athletes punched their tickets to the NCAA Championships last weekend, and the ripple effects could be felt for years to come.

Sophomore Kiara Porter was fifth and shattered her own school record in the 400-meter run, while junior Jaleesa Williams placed sixth and demolished the program mark in the discus at the NCAA East Regional last weekend in Greensboro, N.C. to secure their bids. It’s just the second time two VCU women have reached the NCAA Championships in the same season, and the first since 1997. Williams is the first VCU thrower in school history to advance from the regional meet.

Their performances stamped an exclamation point on VCU Head Coach Jon Riley’s fifth season with the Rams. Riley inherited a program that was largely uncompetitive on the conference level, let alone the national stage, and has guided it to unmatched prominence. But even measured against accomplishments of the last few years, Porter’s and Williams’ regional performances were a breakthrough.

“I feel like it’s a total validation for years of 60-hour weeks and all the time that we’ve put in,” said Throwing Coach Ethan Tussing.

Beyond that, they could be another springboard for the resurgent program. VCU was the only school in the Atlantic 10 Conference to send two athletes to Eugene, Ore. for the NCAA Championship meet. That kind of information will raise a few eyebrows.

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TUSSING WALKS AMONG THE GIANTS

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In 2012 under coach Ethan Tussing, VCU throwers collected seven All-CAA awards and 12 ECAC/IC4A qualifying marks

In 2012 under coach Ethan Tussing, VCU throwers collected seven All-CAA awards and 12 ECAC/IC4A qualifying marks

RICHMOND, Va. – Although he grew up as something of a track and field junkie, Ethan Tussing never had much use for throwing events. Not that they had much use for him, either. Usually the only reason you’d find a 5-foot-10, 140-pound guy like Tussing around the shot put pit is if he went out for a five-mile run and got lost.

Sometimes, back when he was an intern on the track and field staff at the University of Florida, the throws coach would ask him to film the shot put or the discus. But Tussing would usually get bored, miss a bunch of attempts and get an earful from the coach.

He saw himself as a sprints coach one day or as the head coach of a high school track team. What he did not expect, was to be leading arguably the best crop of throwers in VCU history to the Atlantic 10 Conference meet this weekend.

What’s that saying? Life is what happens when you get busy making other plans.

***

When he was five years old, Ethan Tussing watched the Olympics with his dad, Tony, a respected high school track coach and official. Ethan decided he wanted to be like Carl Lewis.

“Then I got to high school and found out I was a terrible sprinter,” The 30-year-old Deland, Fla. native said.

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RUFFIN TAKING A ‘SHOT’ AT GREATNESS

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Brandon Ruffin won a CAA shot put title last spring and is poised to make his mark on the Atlantic 10.

Brandon Ruffin won a CAA shot put title last spring and is poised to make his mark on the Atlantic 10.

By Nan Turner

Sophomore thrower Brandon Ruffin has been busy breaking records again this season, and with the Atlantic 10 Conference Indoor Track Championships approaching Feb. 16-17 in Kingston, R.I., he could be primed for individual gold.

At the New Balance Invitational on Feb. 2, Ruffin broke the school record in shot put with a throw of 17.06 meters (55′ 11.75″). That toss was good for eighth place in a deep field and was a full meter better than his previous best, set just a week earlier.

Ruffin was enthusiastic about his New Balance results, but admits he was hesitant to celebrate.

“It felt great,” Ruffin said. “Since it was the first event and it was on the first day and I had another event the next day, I didn’t want to get overly excited because I knew I had to still compete. It felt good to throw farther.”

Heading into the A-10 Championships, Ruffin ranks second on the league’s performance list in both the shot put and the weight throw. Last spring as a freshman, Ruffin won the shot put placed second in the discus at the CAA Outdoor Championships. He captured five victories overall last spring and earned an invite to the U.S. Junior National Championships last summer. The 19-year-old thrower appears to be on a fast track to stardom.

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