April 12, 2003
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee upped its overall meet win total to seven with three relay wins Saturday to close this chapter of the 37th Sea Ray Relays at Tom Black Track. Led by two dominant relay wins from the Tennessee distance corps and a stirring comeback in the shuttle hurdle relay, the Vols tripled the relay title haul of any other team.
While the 37th chapter of the Sea Ray Relays story on the men's side wasn't quite as earth-rattling as last year's edition, Saturday brought more high-caliber competition and beautiful conditions befitting the spring classic of the Volunteers. Still, for the first time in a while, no men's meet records fell by the wayside.
Tennessee hurdler Jabari Greer and unattached pole vaulter Tim Mack won Tony Wilson Awards for track and field, respectively, given to the most outstanding Sea Ray Relays performers in each event area. Greer won the 110m hurdles Friday in a lifetime-best 13.67 time, the second-fastest by a collegian and third-fastest by an American this year entering this weekend's meets. He also made up a 10-meter deficit to lead Tennessee to the shuttle hurdle relay title in 55.17, the second-fastest collegiate time this season. Mack, a former Vol NCAA champion, cleared 18-8.75 to win the invitational pole vault and meet the 'A' standard for the World Championships. His clearance also stands as the second-highest this year by an American entering this weekend's meets.
"We had a good day here to close Sea Rays, especially our distance guys," head coach Bill Webb said. "Sometimes guys like Kenny Schappert tend to shine when you put a baton in their hand. Unfortunately, Rocky (Danners) cramped and couldn't get the stick around in the 4x100m relay. That was a disappointment for the fans and his teammates. I'd have to count up all the lifetime and season bests, but there were many. We keep making progress in some areas. It was a good meet for Tennessee, and I look forward to two weeks of training before the Penn Relays."
Both of Tennessee's distance relay winners were blowouts. In the 4x1,500m relay, Tennessee won the race by about 65 meters and 11 seconds. Rob Cloutier led off for the Vols, mounting a strong move on the last lap to open up a 25-meter advantage at the handoff to Tim Kelly. Kelly handed off to Cordis Stanfield with the Vols a stride or two behind the leaders. Stanfield held his own and kept with the lead pack. On the anchor, Farragut native Eric Bell roared to the front and kept opening the gap the remainder of his leg to secure Tennessee's first 4x1,500m relay win at Sea Rays since 1991.
"Coach [Watts] told me to go out smart," anchor leg Bell said. "I was lucky because the other guys [on the relay] helped set me up. It was really good to see the Vol distance guys win the 4x800 and 4x1,500."
The Vols weren't worried about breaking a drought in the 4x800m relay at Sea Rays, as they won the event just last year and in 2001. However, the desire to repeat proved enough as Tennessee took its third consecutive Sea Ray 4x800m relay title in 7:28.04 on the able running of Joakim Daun, Kenny Schappert, Marc Sylvester and Frank Francois. Daun and Schappert kept the Vols in the mix until Sylvester took the stick. Making amends for getting boxed in the 800m run Friday night, Sylvester raced out to a 20-meter lead at the final handoff to anchor Frank Francois. Francois turned it on from the outset and increased the lead to the winning margin of about 30 meters and five seconds.
"It was great to get the win at home," anchor leg Francois said. "It definitely helps to have friends and family out here. My goal was to get out hard and win the race. I knew the Georgetown guy behind me was an excellent runner. I expected to get the stick with the lead with Marc [Sylvester] running before me and the other guys running so well."
On the east straightaway bordering Volunteer Boulevard, the Vols also had a shuttle hurdle relay title from 2002 to defend. Karl Jennings, Stephen Harris, Robert Boulware and Jabari Greer took the win in 55.17, the Vols' season-best time and second-fastest collegiate time of the season. With Tennessee down about 10 meters to hurdle power South Carolina when Greer exploded from the blocks on the anchor leg, the dual sport star from Jackson steadily ate away the Gamecock advantage over the 110-meter length of the race. The final results revealed Greer had nipped the Gamecocks by six-hundredths of a second.
"I felt like I was given a gift and had to go out and do it," Greer said. "Our preparation allowed us to go out and capture the title. I'm glad we did it as a team. We didn't want to settle for second."
However, Tennessee hit a patch of bad luck in the 4x100m relay, one of its strong suits. While Gary Kikaya was being held out for precautionary reasons, alternate Rocky Danners left his pole vault warm up to lead off the Vol speed quartet. Coming around the northeast turn, Danners locked up with a hamstring cramp and couldn't get the baton to Greer on the second leg. Sean Lambert and Jonathan Wade awaited the stick on the third and fourth legs. Danners also had to withdraw from the invitational pole vault.
In the field, captain Stephen Harris took second with a wind-aided 24-9.25 long jump, oddly one of the few wind-aided marks of the week despite often ugly weather. Junior Leigh Smith cranked out five-feet of improvement on his season-best javelin mark with a fourth-place, 223-7 effort, also a regional qualifier. Also, late Friday night, Josh Whisman improved his lifetime best mark in the hammer throw once again with an eighth-place, 188-5 regional qualifier.
Tennessee takes a needed week off for training and healing before turning north for the Penn Relays in two weeks.