O'Neal's title quest leaps ahead, Cid's falls short
A bittersweet Memorial Day weekend for the Bulls already has featured one national title quest ending, and another forging ahead by literal leaps.
On a breezy, partly cloudy Saturday afternoon in Jacksonville, senior triple jumper Matthew O'Neal shattered his own school record and asserted himself as a prohibitive national title favorite en route to winning the NCAA East Preliminary.
O'Neal's 55-foot, 9.75-inch effort on his second and final try of the day was the nation's longest collegiate jump of the year and eighth-best in the world for 2016, according to iaaf.org. It shattered his own school mark by more than 10 inches.
His first jump (54-4.5) also would've won the event, in which the top 12 finishers earned berths in next month's NCAA Track and Field Championships.
"Just coming out there I wanted to do my best and I'm just definitely thankful I was able to compete today; just give glory to God for that," O'Neal said via phone Saturday evening.
Sweetening the feat was the audience, which included his mom, three siblings, a cousin and handful of other friends who made the 9 1/2-hour drive from O'Neal's hometown of Jackson, Miss.
"On the (second) attempt there, my nerves kind of settled down from having jumped once before," he said. "I ran down the runway as fast as I could and just jumped the best I could. Just went through the air, the wind carried me a little bit, and landed in the pit."
O'Neal said he had to hear the distance called out twice before it registered. When it did, he and jumps coach Kameisha Otey decided a third jump was unnecessary.
"My coach and I kind of looked at each other and were like, 'Yeah, that's good enough for today,'" O'Neal said.
O'Neal will try to become USF's first national champ (in any sport) in 23 years in Eugene on June 10 -- his 22nd birthday.
Earlier Saturday, senior Roberto Cid's national title quest was halted by UCLA's Mackenzie McDonald, who topped the Bulls senior 6-4, 6-3 in the quarterfinals of the NCAA men's singles tournament at the University of Tulsa.
A two-time NCAA quarterfinalist, Cid got an early break to jump out to a 2-0 lead before dropping 10 of the next 11 games. He finishes his career as the first two-time All-American in program history.