March 2, 2003
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Tennessee closed out the SEC Indoor Championships Sunday by climbing to fourth place with 69 points in Florida's O'Connell Center. While the effort marked the Vols' lowest SEC Indoor team finish since 2000, Tennessee crowned three individual champions and did a much better job of maximizing its points on the meet's closing day. In addition to captain Stephen Harris' pentathlon championship from Friday, Jabari Greer and Gary Kikaya sparked a final-day rally with SEC titles in the 55m hurdles and 400m dash, respectively.
On Sunday's final day of competition, Tennessee responded by doubling its SEC individual title haul and more than doubling its two-day point total. However, fueled by a monster 80 points in the mile, 3,000m and 5,000m runs, Arkansas took the team title with 120 points. Host Florida took runner-up with 90.5 points. South Carolina finished third with 78.5 points.
"Even though the score doesn't indicate our effort, we had three SEC champions and a number of lifetime bests," head coach Bill Webb said. "I'm happy and proud of our guys. We were at a disadvantage with Rocky (Danners) and Marc (Sylvester) injured. We'll be a better team outdoors. We look forward to the SEC Outdoor Championships to get back in a position to defend our title in Knoxville."
Headlining a day full of bold performances, Greer's championship 55m hurdles time of 7.13 stands as the fourth-fastest time in school history behind such luminaries as Willie Gault, Richmond Flowers and Bill High. However, if you convert Greer's 55m hurdles time to the 60m hurdles standard used at the NCAA Indoors, the 7.13 becomes 7.64, faster than any Volunteer has ever run the event, including legendary Gault (7.67) and Dawane Wallace (7.72). Greer becomes the first Vol to win the hurdles at SEC Indoors since Wallace won in 1997.
"It's just a blessing," Greer said. "I feel like I was given a gift to run track and play football. I think going out there and competing with the best makes me a better person all around. I've been coached by the best man in the nation in Vince Anderson. He's given me inspiration and given me the courage to put everything else aside and run my race."
Greer mentioned his weekend was a textbook case of overcoming adversity as he turned his fortunes around in amazing fashion. Greer said he hadn't been training very sharp as of late. He was running late for the team bus to the airport in Knoxville. He got inadvertently left at the Gainesville airport Friday as the team hurriedly piled into vans and made its way to the track to cheer on the pentathletes. After he rejoined his teammates, the Jackson native realized he'd also left his spikes in Knoxville. Blocking all of that out when the Vols needed a breakthrough performance, Greer came into meet ranked sixth in the SEC and leaves as champion.
Gary Kikaya entered the meet as the favorite in the 400m dash. He likewise leaves Gainesville as the favorite after capturing the 400m dash title in 46.36. Kikaya held off a late charge by South Carolina's Jonathan Fortenberry to nip the Gamecock by two-hundredths of a second. Kikaya now has an SEC Indoor 400m trophy to share the shelf with his 400m SEC Outdoor title last year. Kikaya's 11.5 points were the second-most on the squad. Kikaya became the first Vol in 31 years to win the SEC Indoor 400m dash since Trevor James in 1972.
"It was a very competitive race," Kikaya said. "I knew I could do it. I just ran my own race and didn't worry about what anyone else was doing. It makes me confident going into nationals because most of my competition is in the SEC."
The day's final event, the 4x400m relay, was indicative of Tennessee's attack on Sunday. The Vols pasted together a hodge-podge of athletes and competed with the nation's best 4x400m relay teams. The Vols finished third with a 3:09.93, their season best and a provisional qualifier to leave them on the bubble for the NCAA Indoors. The Vols opened up with Dwayne Bell Jr., who volunteered for duty after a nasty spill in the 400m dash Saturday. The Vols stood fourth when Bell handed the baton to Kikaya. Despite running a hard 400m final earlier in the day, Kikaya pulled the Vols to second place with a team-leading 45.3 split to prove he still had some left in the tank. Sean Lambert, a 60m and 200m specialist, offered to run the third leg of the 4x400m relay after a full day pulling double duty earlier in the sprints. When Harris took the baton to begin the anchor leg the Vols stood fourth. However, he nipped Alabama at the tape to secure third.
Meanwhile, Harris once again proved his worth as an ironman. For the third day in a row, Harris went to the well for the Vols. He finished as Tennessee's leading scorer with 14.5 points--10 from the pentathlon, three from a sixth-place finish scrapping for points in the high jump and 1.5 for his role in anchoring the Vols' third-place 4x400m relay. In true Volunteer form, Harris entered the first event of the meet in the pentathlon, the last event of the meet in the 4x400m relay and the long jump and high jump in between.
In one of his finest meets as a Vol, Sean Lambert chipped in nine and a half points to the Vol cause with his fifth-place finishes in the 55m and 200m dashes and the second leg on the third-place 4x400m relay. Lambert competed hard for his fifth-place, season-best time of 21.53, despite entering the meet not even ranked in the SEC's top 10. The junior also clocked in at a provisional 6.26 for his fifth-place finish in the 55m dash.
"I couldn't be prouder of our three SEC champions," Webb said. "Jabari's (Greer) time converted to the 60m hurdles is faster than even Willie Gault. Stephen (Harris) showed why he was elected team captain as he was our high scorer. Gary (Kikaya) ran a monster 45.3 split on his leg of the 4x400m relay after winning the 400m. I can't believe we ran that fast with a bandaged-together unit."
In an elite field, Patrick Gildea gave the Vols a boost in the 5,000m run with a gritty career-best time of 14:20.82, 15 seconds faster than he had ever run the event. While the Razorbacks still captured 29 points in the event, it could have been worse because Gildea beat two of the Arkansas scorers to the line. Ranked seventh entering the meet, Gildea peaked at the right time to squeeze out fifth place in workmanlike fashion.
Tennessee's distance medley relay took fifth in 10:01.46, a three-second improvement of the Vols' season-best. On the first leg, Rob Cloutier established the Vols in fifth place, but a rough exchange to Damond Campbell slipped the Vols to sixth. Joakim Daun pulled the Vols back to fifth after passing the Mississippi State runner. On the anchor, Eric Bell extended the lead and cruised in for the fifth-place finish.
In the 200m dash, freshman Jonathan Wade reached a milestone by scoring in his first SEC meet. Wade took seventh and contributed two points with a time of 21.82.
Tennessee scored in every distance event as eighth-place finishes by Frank Francois in the 800m and Cloutier in the mile sealed the deal. Francois' 1:50.01 bettered his season-best provisional time. The start of a full day's work, Cloutier's 4:12.88 came with a leg on the distance medley relay still to come.
Meanwhile, the Vols missed out on scoring in the weight throw, which was actually held outdoors to open the morning. Josh Whisman (56-5 1/4) and Jim Sexton (52-8 1/4) took 10th and 15th, respectively, in a rain-slicked ring.
Tennessee's coaching staff will decide by Tuesday who to send to last chance meets this weekend in hopes of capturing an NCAA qualifier. The NCAA Indoors arrive in two weeks to be followed by the outdoor season.