May 1, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Director of Track & Field J.J. Clark announced Tuesday the signing of a talented and diverse class of eight student-athletes to national letters of intent. Six members of the group were ranked on Track & Field News' 2011 comprehensive and/or 2012 indoor high school top performers lists, including a local product.
Joining the Lady Volunteers are distance runner Chelsea Blaase (St. Joseph, Ill./St. Joseph-Ogden H.S.), sprinter Felicia Brown (Ellenwood, Ga./Martin Luther King Jr H.S.), distance runner Alexis Panisse (Bellerose, N.Y./Benjamin Cardozo H.S.), thrower Cassie Wertman (Holland, Ind./Southridge H.S.) and sprinter Emily Yarnell (Knoxville, Tenn./Hardin Valley Academy). Joining the Volunteers will be thrower Cameron Brown (Franklin, Tenn./Ravenwood H.S.), pole vaulter Jacob Blankenship (Blacklick, Ohio/Gahanna Lincoln H.S.) and distance runner Michael Libruk (Watervliet, N.Y./Shaker H.S.).
"We have a good group of signees," Clark said. "We have everything from the vault, to distance, to the throws, to the sprints. We covered a lot of different areas with these young men and women, and we believe that they will come in and give us the opportunity to work toward the championships we're accustomed to winning.
"These signees, from an athletic standpoint, are very important, because they should allow us the chance to put points on the board (at conference and national meets), and that's always very exciting. Obviously, the ultimate goal is matriculating and graduating, but they also will allow us the opportunity to move toward winning - and that's always fun. We're excited about these young people coming to our campus and wearing orange."
Blankenship (6-0, 180) is the most decorated of the class, winning a bronze medal in the men's pole vault at the 2011 IAAF World Youth Championships in Lille, France, at 16 feet, 6 3/4 inches. His personal best, however, is a 17-6 1/2 indoor clearance at the Oberlin High School Invitational on Feb. 26, which came after he had navigated 17-4 1/2 on Jan. 21 at the Reno Pole Vault Summit. His newest personal best tied him for number two in the U.S. on the Track & Field News indoor prep list in 2012, and he remains No. 3 on TFN's comprehensive indoor/outdoor list this season.
In addition to winning at the 2012 New Balance Indoor Nationals (17-0) and 2011 New Balance Outdoor Nationals (outdoor PR of 17-0 3/4), the All-American also is a 2011 USA TODAY All-USA Track & Field Team member, two-time all-state performer (2011 victor) and three-time all-conference honoree. He is the owner of the Ohio indoor (17-6 1/2) and outdoor (17-0 3/4) records and co-owner of the OHSAA Division I state meet record (17-0) as well.
A three-sport athlete, the 5-9 Wertman ranked No. 4 nationally on TFN's 2011 women's prep shot put list with a best of 50-3, which she achieved in a runner-up effort at the IHSAA State Championships. Her personal best of 143-4 in the discus earned her a state title and helped her become an all-state track & field athlete for the third time in her career. She was second in the shot in 2010 and third in the discus that season. She also was an all-state volleyball player and all-conference in basketball for Southridge.
Cameron Brown is an up-and-coming thrower from the mid-state area who ranked No. 5 on TFN's 2012 prep list in the men's weight throw at 70-6 1/4. The 6-6, 230-pounder finished fifth at the 2012 New Balance Collegiate Invitational with a toss of 69-5 1/2 in that event. He also owns bests of 195-6 in the hammer, 149-8 in the discus and 50-8 3/4 in the shot, placing fourth in the shot and eighth in the discus at the 2011 TSSAA state meet. His hammer throw best came in a victory at the 2012 Volunteer Track Classic in Knoxville.
Felicia Brown (no relation) currently has the No. 4 comprehensive 400m time in the country. She logged a 53.53 indoor readout on an oversized track in Seattle in February. She also ranks seventh on TFN's comprehensive 200m list this season at 23.94 and has an outdoor best of 23.59 this spring. In 2011, the 5-6 Georgian had the No. 10 outdoor prep 400m time, winning the young women's division at the AAU Junior Olympics in New Orleans at 53.67. Other PRs include 12.16 in the 100m, 7.83 in the 60m and 7.45 in the 55m.
Diminutive distance runner Alexis Panisse (pa-NEESE), who stands five feet tall, is a big-time performer. She was ranked in three different events on TFN's 2012 indoor prep list. She was third in the 600m (1:32.05) 4th in 1000m (2:48.82) and seventh in the mile (4:48.36). She also has a 9:59.28 3000m clocking, which she ran to win a New York state title, and a 5000m readout of 16:58.24, which earned her sixth at the 2012 New Balance Indoor Nationals. She also logged the previously-mentioned mile time at that meet to finish fifth.
Outdoors this season, Panisse stands No. 2 on the TFN list in the 2000 steeplechase at 6:59.34 and fourth in the 800m at 2:07.89. The 30th-place finisher at the 2011 Foot Locker National Cross Country Championships, her career bests in that sport include 17:46 for 5K and 15:07 for two miles.
A local standout, the 5-5 Yarnell tied for 16th on the 2011 TFN 200m list at 23.85, a time she ran to break the meet record at the Volunteer Track Classic in Knoxville last spring. Her 2011 season also included a Tennessee AAA state title in the 100m dash (12.08) and a runner-up effort in the 200 meters (24.73), and she had third-place finishes in the 200m in 2009 and 2010, and was third in the 100m in 2010 as well. The three-time KIL 100m and 200m champion ran at the 2012 New Balance Indoor Nationals and finished 14th in the 200m at 24.75.
Libruk has been a three-time relay All-American during his career, running on a pair of 4xMile relays and one 4x800m quartet during his career. During the fall, he was a first-team all-state selection in cross country, Albany Times-Union Section II Runner of the Year and was named to the MileSplit New York All Star Boys Cross Country Team in his fifth season as a member of the Shaker varsity. Among his personal bests on the track are 1:54.07 in the 800m, 2:29.96 for 1000m, 4:16.7 in the 1600m, 4:23.66 for the mile and 8:44.2 in the 3000m. He was named to Suburban Council All Stars Team for cross country from 2009 to 2011 and for indoor and outdoor track in 2010 and 2011.
Blaase (blah-ZAY) is a three-time all-state performer in track and cross country, winning the Illinois Class 1A cross country title last fall in 17:12 for three miles. That effort broke the old meet record by 15 seconds. The 2010 and 2011 Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette Girls' Runner of the Year also has personal bests of 5:13 for the mile, 5:05.07 for 1600m, 11:01.81 for 3200m and 17:09 for three miles in cross country. That last mark came at the 2011 Illinois 1A Sectional, where the 5-4 distance ace claimed one of her four meet victories as a senior.