Big South "Musco Women's Spotlight" Feature: Gabrielle Houston

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BigSouthSports.com) - The Big South Conference, in conjunction with Collegiate Partner Musco Sports Lighting, continues its monthly "Musco Women's Spotlight" feature.  This month's spotlight is Charleston Southern senior women's sprinter Gabrielle Houston (Springfield, Ga.).

Houston rounded out the 2012 season clocking in at 23.65 in the 200-meter dash to take first place in the event at the 2012 Big South Conference Championships.  The sprinter also holds the Big South's top spot in the 100-meter event with a time of 11.38.  Click on the accompanying video to watch Houston's interview, and read below her reflections on qualifying twice for NCAA nationals, her experience being mentored by an upperclassman, and paying it forward to CSU's underclassmen track athletes.

When Houston qualified for NCAA Nationals in the 200-meter dash at the NCAA East Preliminaries in Jacksonville, Fla., it was more than just the result of months of hard work.  Her 11th place finish - earning a spot in Des Moines, Iowa, -- signified Houston's return to the top.

Houston arrived in Charleston from Springfield, Ga., in the fall of 2008 and immediately flourished under the tutelage of head coach Tosha Ansley.  The 5'7 sprinter made her mark almost immediately, teaming with former Bucs Dionne Gibson, Jessica Thomas and Misha Morris for one of the most successful 4 x 100-meter relay teams in school history.

"I wasn't expecting to be a part of that - to make it to nationals," stated Houston.  "But I'm so glad that I was."

During that season, it was Gibson whose name most often made the headlines.  The then-senior had also qualified for the NCAA National meet in the 200-meter dash and was the leader of a relay team that became the first in Big South history to break the 45-second mark with a 44.63 in the 2009 East Region Championships.  Houston took notes, and in 2012 became the first Buc since Gibson to repeat the feat of earning an individual bid to the national championships.

"Dionne really helped me learn to run my own race," Houston recalled.  "She told me to run to the best of my ability and to leave it all at the track."

Thanks to her performance last weekend, Houston will get one more opportunity to do just that.  After qualifying for the finals in both the 100- and 200-meter events, Houston was able to drop 0.14 seconds off of her first round time of 23.57 in the 200-meter event to set a new program mark of 23.43 in the finals.  The 2012 Big South Conference Champion in the event, Houston took fourth in her heat at the NCAA Preliminaries.  With the top three in each heat automatically advancing, she was forced to wait an agonizing minute to see if she was one of the next three fastest overall times who would also advance - and she was. 

"It was a process of already knowing how to make it on as a team, but wanting to see what it was like to make it as an individual," said Houston.  "That was my main goal."

Houston, however, wasn't alone at the meet.  Joined by freshman Mulern Jean, also a Big South Champion who competed in the 100-meter hurdles, Houston - now the upperclassman mentor - got to take what Gibson had given her four years ago and pay it forward. 

"All I could tell her was not to be nervous," said Houston.  "She is a great athlete.  She wouldn't be there if she wasn't but she was there.  All she had to do is run to the best of her ability and next year she'll definitely have it."

Not only did Houston set a new CSU record in the event, she made it even closer to hitting the Olympic Trials "B" Standard of 23.35.  Some of the same runners she faced in Jacksonville will continue on past Des Moines to London as several hit "A" standards this past weekend

"It's exciting," said Houston.  "A little nerve-wracking, but exciting."  

The look on Houston's face when she realized that some of her heat-mates were future Olympians was priceless.  She gave even less thought to the fact that not only was she competing against them - runners from much larger programs like Ohio State and Louisiana State, but that she was holding her own.  She was one of them.

"Oh my gosh," stated Houston.  "I didn't even think of that.  It never crossed my mind!"

Written by Ashley Bailey of Charleston Southern's Athletic Communications office

READ THE PREVIOUS "MUSCO WOMEN'S SPOTLIGHTS"
Devon Cavanaugh, UNC Asheville
Cindy Boomhower, Gardner-Webb
Jennifer Sing, VMI

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Lisa Lubke, Radford
Jennifer Klugh, Liberty
Becca Toor, Winthrop
Lauren Garza, Campbell