May 18, 2003
Following a two-year title run by Tennessee, Arkansas captured its first Southeastern Conference Outdoor Track and Field title since 2000 Sunday at UT's Tom Black Track.
The Volunteers summed 111.5 points, second to the Arkansas Razorbacks' 149-point, distance-powered total as the curtain closed on the conference's best outdoor show of the year. No team besides the Vols and Razorbacks have won the outdoor conference crown since LSU in 1990. Arkansas ran its total to 10 all-time SEC Outdoor titles, while Tennessee holds steady at 24.
On Sunday, Tennessee 110m hurdler Jabari Greer, 800m man Marc Sylvester, javelin thrower Leigh Smith and the Vol 4x100m relay team of Greer, Gary Kikaya, Sean Lambert and Jonathan Wade joined the list of great champions like Ivory Crockett, Justin Gatlin, Todd Williams, Michael Powell, Bob Roggy and Dan O'Brien to grace Tom Black Track since its completion in 1966. Captain Stephen Harris joined the club Friday night with a decathlon title. Including 10 decathlon points and six points Sunday for a third-place, 6-11.5 clearance in the high jump, Harris held the title of Tennessee's high-point man with 16 for the Vol effort.
"We've had some great, great meets over the last few years," head coach Bill
Webb said. "When we finished second at the SEC Indoors last year, we said it
was one of our best meets. This was almost in that category. We don't like
finishing second, but we certainly liked the way we competed. We liked our
five golds and the show we put on for the hometown fans. We had
collegiate-leading marks by Jabari Greer, Marc Sylvester and our 4x100m relay.
We exceeded my expectations with the two relays. I think we'll be ready for
While Arkansas broke Tennessee's two-year SEC Outdoor winning streak, the Vols still churned out 71.5 points in Sunday's final stanza, probably outstripping most estimates. The Razorbacks piled up 103 points in just five distance events--the 800m, 1,500m, steeplechase, 5,000m and 10,000m--enough in that handful of events to beat every school but Tennessee.
However, most of Tennessee's Volunteers refused to fade quietly into the night. Not unlike the battle-hardened group of Volunteers defending the Alamo so long ago, these Volunteers holding out at Tom Black Track needed a few more guns but fought valiantly throughout the end of their SEC championship reign although the outcome of the team competition was all but decided entering the final day.
Greer's lifetime-best performance in the 110m hurdles rated most impressive on the world stage. His 13.32 steamer beat the runner up by two-tenths of a second, a healthy margin of victory in a race with that caliber of competition. Greer's 13.32 takes over the collegiate lead, stands as the second-fastest wind-legal time by an American this year and currently stands as the third-fastest non-altitude time in the world this year. Greer's 13.32 surpasses Justin Gatlin for the second-fastest 110m hurdles mark in the Vol annals behind Willie Gault's 13.26.
"I always believe I can set a standard," Greer said. "I didn't know when I had it. I just tried to do my best. I did not know what I could do after the 4x100m (just 40 minutes earlier), but I think I have some momentum going to the regionals. My cheering section helps me know I picked the right place. It's good to know my teammates support me. I love running on this track and I love seeing the orange.
Meanwhile, Sylvester's 800m race was one for the ages. Seemingly hopelessly boxed in by the Hogs and locked in fifth place with only 150 meters to go, Sylvester made a tremendous move with a burst of speed on the inside. Down the straightaway, the sophomore passed everyone in a mad 50m dash running toward the Thornton Center for his first SEC title in 1:46.56, the collegiate leader and second-fastest time this year by any American.
"Some guys really blew by me," Sylvester said. "I didn't know what was going on. But I remember what Coach (George) Watts told me before the race: `You know how to run this race. Trust yourself.' So I looked for opportunities where I could get through. They started spreading out, and I was able to go around them. I've raced against all of them. They're a great group of runners. This competition is mostly about training. It will help us get ready for the NCAAs.
Meanwhile, Tennessee's 4x100m relay team won its third consecutive SEC title in 38.92, the fastest time in the NCAA. Never mind the fact that Lambert was the only holdout from the last two year's winning squads and this Vol quartet competed without the services of Gatlin, Leonard Scott and Hassaan Stamps. Greer, Kikaya, Lambert and Wade proved up to the task to occupy the No. 2 all-time spot on the Vol list. However, Wade suffered a slight hamstring injury on his anchor leg and wasn't himself in the 100m and had to scratch in the 200m.
"Coach Vince Anderson put us in position to do our best," leadoff man Greer said. "We're excited. We were underdogs and tried to do our best. We can take it as fast as anybody. These guys are competitors; our chemistry is amazing. The way we react on and off the track is a real contribution to our success. (Sean) Lambert and (Jonathan) Wade are easy to run with. All of us believed we were going to do it today.
In the field, Leigh Smith stepped up to the plate for the biggest day of his career. Smith, just a junior, won his second SEC javelin title with a lifetime-best heave of 236-6 to move into third place on Tennessee's all-time list in the event. Smith won the event on his third throw despite entering the meet a distant second on the conference list.
"Last year (not winning) was disappointing," Smith said. "My mental state was off last year so I tried to refocus myself. This gives me a lot of confidence going into NCAAs. It feels great going in. Our team has done great. It is too bad we couldn't get a little more, but our guys have done great out here.
In a quality 400m dash final, Kikaya took second with a season-best time of 45.57. Kikaya made a strong close down the straightaway, but champion Otis Harris of South Carolina was able to hold him off.
Karl Jennings registered lifetime bests in both hurdles events and contributed six points to the Tennessee cause on the final day. Jennings' 13.53 to take fourth in the 110m hurdles was most impressive. With the big improvement Jennings moves past Vol greats such as Dawane Wallace, Richmond Flowers and Anthony Hancock into sole possession of fourth on Tennessee's all-time list. Jennings also placed eighth in the 400m hurdles in 51.17, eighth on Tennessee's all-time list in that event.
The Vol 4x400m relay team of Dwayne Bell Jr., Sylvester, Lambert and Kikaya blasted another season-best time with a fourth-place, 3:05.56 time, despite entering the SEC meet with the seventh-fastest time.
Meanwhile, senior Rondell Mershon posted the finest day of his collegiate career with a fifth-place, 51-11 measurement down the sand pit in the triple jump. The lifetime-best mark moves Mershon into sixth on Tennessee's all-time list in the event and gives him momentum entering the NCAA Regionals.
The 2003 SEC Outdoor Championship marks only the second time in the Vols' six hostings of the meet that they haven't hoisted the champion's trophy high. While Tennessee's non-championship, dual-meet undefeated streak on Tom Black Track of 33 years remains safe until 2004, the Vols lost their first scored home meet since the 1995 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Tennessee's focus turns immediately to the NCAA Mideast Regional Championships in Columbus, Ohio on Ohio State's Jesse Owens Memorial Track in two weeks. Because of a qualifying format change, the NCAA Mideast Regional is the Vols' path to the NCAA Outdoor Championships June 11-14 in Sacramento, Calif.