May 17, 2003
A traditional rivalry brewed again Friday, the second day of the Southeastern Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships, as Tennessee and Arkansas stood atop the leaderboard with 29 points each with the conclusion of the decathlon and 10,000m run.
Spurred on by 20 points courtesy of four of Tennessee's five decathletes scoring and an additional nine points on a strong Vol 10,000m run, the Vols and the Razorbacks set the stage for yet another battle between the only two schools to win an SEC Outdoor title since 1991. Meanwhile, Stephen Harris claimed the 340th all-time indoor or outdoor SEC individual title with his decathlon triumph.
"Today the Vols continued to compete tough.," head coach Bill Webb said. "I was pleased. I didn't see all the events because of the decathlon (pole) vaults being moved inside. We got four places in the decathlon, scored 20 points and that jump starts the meet for us. On the other qualifying, I'm happy to hear that (Marc) Sylvester, Jonathan Wade and Karl Jennings qualified. I did see the 10,000m and it was a really nice job by Patrick Gildea and Scott DeFilippis. They did a real nice job on getting a fourth and fifth for us. All and all, the Vols are off to a good start in the meet. I'm pretty pleased. I'd have to quote (Tennessee head football coach) Phil Fulmer and say that 'I've got to go home and look at the tape' to get a full analysis, because I didn't see all those other events."
The Volunteers couldn't ask any more of their captain as senior Harris won his first SEC decathlon title with 7,871 points, not quite matching his world leader from earlier this year but 132 points better than runner-up Maurice Smith of Auburn. With the win the Vol captain swept the SEC indoor and outdoor multievent titles as Harris also claimed the pentathlon title indoors. Harris registered a PR in the pole vault, possibly the most dreaded event for decathletes, with a second-place, 15-1 clearance over the bar after the competition was moved inside Stokely Athletics Center because of rain. Additionally, the Norcross, Ga., native took second with a season-best 14.45 time to open the second day.
"It's a milestone for me to win this championship," Harris said. "In the overall look of everything, it sets things up nicely. It makes me really appreciate all my teammates. It makes me appreciate this university and my family, especially my friends who came here and supported me. It makes me appreciate life. It's one of those eye-opening things that opens the big picture up for you."
Meanwhile, decathlete Kevin Thompson not only took fourth with a season-best 7,526 points, the senior wrote his ticket for the NCAA Outdoor meet by surpassing the automatic mark. Thompson managed a third-place lifetime best in the pole vault (14-9) to go along with another third-place effort in the discus (139-6). Thompson also contributed a season-best time of 14.96 in the 110m hurdles.
"He's the most humble athlete you'll ever meet," Thompson said of Harris. "If he wins-and every time I've gone up against him, he's won-but he's very gracious about it. I'm just proud that he's won out here today. He deserves it."
Blake Sabo notched a season-best provisional qualifier of 7,188 points to earn fifth. Sabo's fifth-place, lifetime-best clearance of 14-1.25 in the pole vault and fifth-place, season-best time of 14.79 in the 110m hurdles stand as highlights. Alex Hritcu added the 20th point for Tennessee's decathletes with his eighth-place, 7,044-point provisional-qualifying effort. Hritcu put together a solid day, posting lifetime bests in the 110m hurdles and 1,500m run to open and close the day's competition.
Tennessee's long-distance men answered distance mentor George Watts' call by getting the Vols on the scoreboard with nine points, the most the men in orange have scored in the 10,000m run in recent memory. Patrick Gildea and Scott DeFilippis gutted through a fourth and fifth-place finish, respectively, in an admirable effort in collegiate track's longest race. Gildea and DeFilippis hung with the second pack for much of the race behind the leading two runners. However, there was no faded orange as the long and grueling race wound down on this day. Gildea charged to fourth in 29:44.01, a provisional time but not a season best. DeFilippis crossed next to add to the point haul with his fifth-place, 30:19.11 timing. Ed Davis took 15th in his first SEC Outdoor meet with a 32:02.33 time.
However in the hammer, the day's opening event and the first chance to score, the Vols missed out on a point or two as Josh Whisman took 10th, two places out of the scoring mix, with a 180-3 mark. His season-best mark of 189-3 entered the meet as the eighth-best mark.
The Volunteers put together a lukewarm qualifying effort. Tennessee qualified someone in every event but won't put as many orange singlets in the finals as the Vols wanted to push the point-total higher. On the other hand, the Vols who did qualify did so with gusto.
In the 200m dash, freshman Jonathan Wade posted the day's fastest qualifier with a 20.83 time, a regional qualifier and just .04 of a second off his season-best time. However, teammate Sean Lambert missed out on qualifying for the finals with a 10th-place, 21.27 time.
"It was the first time I won the prelim heat in the SEC," Wade said. "It doesn't really make a difference. I won, but it's over with. I've got another race tomorrow, so that doesn't mean I'm going to stop because I won the prelim race. If I have too much of a celebration, I may upset some people, so I'm going to keep it to myself. I made it to tomorrow and I'm going to try to make it to the finals in the 100m. It's a team thing; it's not just me."
Likewise, in the 800m run, sophomore Marc Sylvester won his heat also featuring former NCAA champ Otukile Lekote. Sylvester qualified with a 1:48.88, the third-fastest overall qualifier of the day to reserve his finals lane. However, teammate Frank Francois missed out on qualifying with a 12th-place, 1:49.94 time, although it was a season best. Kenny Schappert continued his marked progress with another lifetime best in the 800m run. Schappert's 1:51.54 time knocked almost two seconds off his previous best and placed 23rd. Teammate Joakim Daun took 26th with a season-best 1:52.57 time.
The 400m hurdles was much the same story. Karl Jennings qualified for the finals with the day's seventh-best time, a lifetime-best 51.18 regional qualifier. While senior Dwayne Bell Jr. offered up a lifetime best, too, his 11th-place, regional-qualifying 51.66 won't make the finals. Freshman Damond Campbell took 15th in 53.03.
Saturday offers up more chances for points before Sunday's final-day motherload which will decide the meet.