RECORD-SETTING WILLIAMS CHASES HISTORY IN NCAA ENCORE

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Jaleesa Williams stands, moments after releasing a throw at the 2013 NCAA Discus Championship.

Jaleesa Williams stands, moments after releasing a throw at the 2013 NCAA Discus Championship.

Don’t assume that Jaleesa Williams’ outsized personality means she’s boisterous about her successes. She could fill pickup truck with all the awards she’s won during her four-year career as VCU’s most distinguished thrower. Yet, Williams says her Richmond apartment bears little evidence of her All-American career. Instead, she sends all her trophies home with her mother, Julia.

“She’ll appreciate it more than me,” Williams says. “It’s something to be able to give your mother an MVP trophy for all the hard work and hard-headedness she had to withstand. All the long, cold indoor track meets in high school, being underappreciated, it’s like, ‘here you go.’”

This week, Williams is going to try to win one more for her mom, as well as her father, John.

On Thursday, Williams returns to the NCAA Championships at the University of Oregon in Eugene, where she hopes to secure one of eight coveted All-America statuettes in the discus. Last season, the Virginia Beach native placed 12th at the national meet to earn Second Team All-America honors, the first thrower, man or woman, in program history to receive that distinction.

This year, Williams is better than ever. On May 30 at the NCAA East Preliminary Round in Jacksonville, Florida, Williams uncorked a school-record heave of 57.97 meters (190’ 2’’) to place third and punch her return ticket to Eugene. There’s plenty of reason to believe Williams is poised for more history. Her preliminary round mark would have won last year’s national championship and is more than four meters longer than her mark from the 2013 meet (53.12m).

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THE YEAR IN VCU ATHLETICS, FROM A TO Z

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Wrong A-B-C...whatever, close enough.

Wrong A-B-C…whatever, close enough.

June marks the conclusion of the college athletics calendar, and July’s arrival effectively signals the beginning of the 2013-14 season, at least for those of us in the biz, anyway. It all makes this week a good time to reflect back on the year that was in VCU Athletics.

A – is for Atlantic 10 Conference, in which, according to our slogan, the Rams were ‘all-in’. We were also all-in for another season of “Arrested Development” and Pop Tart ice cream sandwiches, so we’re having a good year. VCU competed in the A-10 for the first time in 2012-13, a move that has elevated the program’s national profile. The Rams’ first A-10 title came via the women’s tennis squad, followed by a men’s tennis crown days later. Meanwhile, several other sports (men’s basketball, women’s soccer, men’s soccer) reached the league’s championship final.

B – is for the Ball family, one of the driving forces behind the VCU Golf program. They’re like the Kennedy’s of VCU Golf, but with a better short game. Matt Ball may have just completed his 14th season with the Rams, but this one was surely different than the others. That’s because 40 percent of his starting lineup was occupied by sons Adam and Matt Jr. Son Adam, a freshman, led the Rams in scoring average (73.53) this year, while Matt Jr., a junior, placed seventh at the A-10 Championship and was named to the league’s All-Academic Team.

C – is for Courtney Conrad, the alliteratively named star of the women’s soccer team. Conrad led the Rams with 11 goals, including five game-winners, and received All-Mid-Atlantic by the NSCAA.

D – is for Daniels, Troy. If you are a fan of basketball players who score three points at a time (and the signed, obscure Mark Price picture in my dining room proves I am), then you would’ve enjoyed Daniels’ 2012-13 season. In 36 games, Daniels bombed a school-record 124 three-pointers, including games of 11, nine and eight.

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PORTER, WILLIAMS PREP FOR NCAA CHAMIONSHIPS

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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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PORTER TARGETS NCAA BERTH

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Kiara Porter ran for the United States at the 2012 World Junior Championships.

Kiara Porter ran for the United States at the 2012 World Junior Championships.

RICHMOND, Va. – Her name is Kiara Porter. She’s 5-feet tall, from Yorktown, and is most likely faster than you. In the time it takes you to walk to the copier, she can win a gold medal.

Just a sophomore, she’s already broken or assisted in six school records, won seven conference titles and represented the United States in the 1,600-meter relay at the World Junior Track and Field Championships in Barcelona last summer, where she won – you guessed it – a gold medal. Earlier this month, she was named the most outstanding performer of the Atlantic 10 Conference Outdoor Championships after winning four events. By several units of measure – particularly at 400 meters – she’s the fastest woman in VCU in history. It’s not by accident.

“Everything I put on paper, she tries to hit it,” says VCU Track Coach Jon Riley. “She’s just focused. Her work ethic and her work capacity to do a lot of intensity is high. She has a high threshold for pain. That makes her very successful.”

All that pain has been worth plenty of gain for the rising junior. While many of her peers are just starting to hit their athletic stride, figuratively speaking, Porter is eying the next big thing. For her, that’s reaching in the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore. in June.

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DIMINUTIVE PORTER AIMING BIG IN SPAIN

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VCU rising sophomore Kiara Porter will represent team USA in Barcelona July 10-15.

RICHMOND, Va. – Before she races, Kiara Porter – VCU’s pint-sized sprinter – has to literally look up to her challengers. But afterwards, Porter’s competitors often find themselves looking up at her on the podium.

A rising sophomore molded from five feet of pure fast-twitch muscle fibers, Porter is soon going to find out if that success will translate internationally.

Last week, the Yorktown, Va. native ran a school-record 53.07 in the 400 meters at the USA Junior Outdoor Championships in Bloomington, Ind. to take fourth. The finish earned Porter a spot on the USA Junior 4×400-meter relay squad at the IAAF World Junior Championships July 10-15 in Barcelona, Spain.

Porter, who has never traveled abroad, will leave for Spain on July 6. In Barcelona, she’ll be one of a pool of six runners that will comprise USA’s 4×400 relay team. The Americans will have to advance through qualifying to reach the finals. Although her relay squad likely won’t run until July 14, she’ll stay busy soaking in the experience.

Porter would be the first Ram to compete at the World Juniors, an accomplishment she hasn’t overlooked.

“That just means so much to me,” she said. “I would’ve never expected to make it this far in track my freshman year. To run on this level, it’s just an honor to be welcomed on the team.”

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