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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Juniors Andrew Jesien and Yemi Ayeni, and sophomore Stephanie Garcia earned automatic bids to the NCAA Outdoor Championships with top finishes at the NCAA East Regional Championships in Tallahassee, Fla., on Saturday.

Jesien, finishing third in the 1500m, clocked in at 3:51.69 to mark the best finish by a Cavalier in the event at the regional meet, while Ayeni took third in the discus. Ayeni finished with a throw of 58.80m, while Garcia finished fifth in the 3000m steeplechase with a time of 10:25.70. Garcia’s finish is a best for Virginia since Dawn Cleary took fifth in the event at the 2003 championships.

The trio joins Billie-Jo Grant, who qualified yesterday by winning the discus, as automatic qualifiers to the national meet. This will be the third time Grant has advanced to nationals, while it marks a second for Ayeni and Garcia, and a first for Jesien.

“Coming into this meet, we had certain people who were high in the rankings and we were expecting to have do well,” head coach Randy Bungard said. “To have each of them finish high enough in their events to automatically qualify, and to know that we made it through this meet to make it to nationals, means that we’ve done our job.”

As a team, the Cavalier women finished 11th with 15 points, while the men finished 15th with 13 points.

“This is a big region that is extremely competitive,” Bungard said. “To have both of our teams in the top-15 is a good testament to how competitive both of our teams were this year. Our coaching staff has done extremely well to get us to this point and it shows a great combination of hard work between the coaching and support staff to get us this far.”

Throughout the rest of the day, the men’s 4x100m relay team finished with a time of 40.53, while the 4x400m squad clocked in at 3:13.32.

Steve Finley, competing in the 3000m steeplechase, crossed the line in 9:13.46.

In field events, Alexa Manning finished ninth with a throw of 14.77m in the shot put, and in the triple jump, Katie Tershel leaped 12.22m, while Rashawnda James finished with a mark of 11.01m.

Virginia will use this week and next to prepare its athletes for national competition. Seniors Emily Harrison, Kara Scanlin and Katie Read have already provisionally qualified for the championships in the 10K and Meghan Briggs will await word for an at-large bid in the javelin. The 2008 NCAA Outdoor Championships will be held in Des Moines, Iowa, on June 11-14.

Steeple: Stephanie Garcia (5th 10:25.70)
SP: Alexa Manning (14.77m), Billie-Jo Grant (DNS); TJ: Katie Tershel (12.22m), Rashawnda James (11.01m).

1500m: Andrew Jesien (3rd 3:51.69); Steeple: Steve Finley (9:13.46); 4×100: Virginia (40.53); 4×400: Virginia (3:13.32)
Disc: Yemi Ayeni (58.80m

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