April 5, 2003
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Tennessee shined in a close triumph despite soggy conditions in the SEC Triangular Saturday at South Carolina's Weems Baskin Track. Eight wins, three of those at least in part courtesy of Gary Kikaya, and a gutsy Volunteer effort in the 5,000m run locked up a 155-154 nailbiter over host South Carolina. Third-place Florida tallied 81 points.
Tennessee has never lost the midseason conference scored meet since that format entered the schedule in the 2000 indoor season, a streak of eight consecutive wins by head coach Bill Webb's Volunteers. Webb had to be pleased not only with the eight wins, but with the fact that they came in three different event areas. Assistant coach Vince Anderson's sprint corps dominated the short track in any race one lap or less, securing wins in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 4x100m relays. Assistant head coach George Watts charges took control of the 5,000m run and 3,000m steeplechase events. Webb's throwers secured wins in the javelin and hammer.
"We always want to win, but we had to back off some guys because of the rain and being a little banged up," Webb said. "You have to look at our 5,000m guys who took one for the team in order to get the win. Gary Kikaya was a part of three winners. Sean Lambert and Jonathan Wade combined to score a lot of points. We just slugged through and got the win. We just wanted to get through this meet and not get anyone hurt."
While Kikaya pieced together the best meet by an individual for the Vols, the real heroes for Tennessee this weekend could be found in the longest race of the day, the 5,000m run. With just two races left in the puddle-splashed SEC Triangular, the Vols stood near hopelessly down and in grave danger of having their seven-meet SEC non-championship scoring meet streak unceremoniously snapped. Tennessee's coaching staff huddled and decided the only way to pull out the victory was to load the 5,000m run because it was a certainty the Gamecocks would field a good 4x400m relay to cap the meet. In another oddity, neither South Carolina or Florida contested the 5,000m run. Five of Watts' distance Vols, including two who had run other distance races just a couple hours earlier, finished the grueling 5,000m run to lock up the team championship after combining for a robust 21 points in the event.
While none of the times will make the Olympic, or even the regional, qualifying standard, the Vols' 5,000m run effort was more about grit than glitter in traditional Tennessee unselfish fashion anyway. Patrick Gildea took first in the event in 14:37.91 after running a brutal 10,000m last weekend at Stanford. Scott DeFilippis, also with a 10,000m run under his belt just a week ago, took second in the 5,000 with a time of 14:56.23. Eric Bell, who ran to second in the 1,500m run earlier in the day, took third in 15:02.43 to help push Tennessee over the top. Fourth-place Ed Davis' 15:13.09 finish also contributed to the group's 21-point haul. Additionally, Steve Klein, who sacrificed with the day's toughest double after also taking second in the 3,000m steeplechase, put the wraps on the 5,000m run effort with a fifth-place, 15:53.24 finish.
Overall, Kikaya led the way as team high scorer with 15.75 points accumulated with wins in the 200m, 400m and 4x100m relay. Each of the three wins in which Kikaya played a role stand as the top times in the Mideast qualifying region entering this weekend's competition. All of Kikaya's times meet the regional qualifying standard. Kikaya's 20.73 winner in the 200m dash stands as his lifetime best. While he can go quite a bit faster in the one-lapper, Kikaya's 45.94 won the 400m dash. Meanwhile, Kikaya took over former Vol Justin Gatlin's familiar second leg on Tennessee's winning 4x100m relay effort. The Volunteer quartet of Jabari Greer, Kikaya, Sean Lambert and Wade got the baton around the track in a respectable 39.56 in its season-opening effort.
Also in the sprint sweep, Lambert won the shortest event of the meet, the 100m dash, with a season-best time and regional qualifier of 10.30. Wade stood as the day's second-highest scorer with 11.75 points, mainly on the strength of runner-up finishes in both the 100m (10.39) and 200m dashes (20.94), both regional-qualifying times.
Tim Kelly represented the distance corps well with a winning time of 9:28.76 in the steeplechase. Meanwhile, before he was called to duty in the 5,000m run, Klein took second in the steeplechase with a lifetime-best time of 9:29.18.
In the throws, Leigh Smith won the javelin with a 217-3 mark. Meanwhile, Josh Whisman took top honors in the hammer throw with a 183-1 measurement. Both of Tennessee's winning marks in the throws meet the regional qualifying standard.
While the eight event winners set the tone, Tennessee's traditional depth played a crucial role in securing the one-point victory. This hallmark showed up in the 800m run, where three Vols -- Frank Francois, Joakim Daun and Kenny Schappert -- scored, and it would have been one more had All-America Marc Sylvester not been slowed by illness. A similar situation played out in the high jump where three decathletes -- Stephen Harris, Kevin Thompson and Blake Sabo -- finished second, fourth and fifth to move the scoreboard in favor of the Big Orange. Heeding the Volunteer call of team before self, decathletes Thompson and Sabo entered five and four events, respectively, in hopes of scrapping for points.
With a hard-fought team victory in the bag, Tennessee focuses on the 37th Sea Ray Relays, its annual rite of spring. The Sea Ray Relays take over Tom Black Track Wednesday-Saturday, April 9-12. Admission is free.