Vols Off to Fast Start at NCAA Championships

June 9, 2005

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Tennessee's 4x100-meter relay squad, 110 hurdler Aries Merritt and hammer thrower Garland Porter all survived Wednesday's qualifying rounds and will advance at the NCAA outdoor championships in Sacramento, Calif. Decathlete Chris Helwick moved up the scoreboard the entire first day of competition to put himself in scoring position for Thursday's conclusion of the 10-event spectacle at Hornet Stadium in the Alex G. Spanos Sports Complex.

Rainy and chilly conditions plagued most of the day's events, leaving Sacramento feeling more like Seattle for the 4,017 fans in attendance. While meet officials pressed on without formal weather delays, the rain-splashed conditions bogged down the first day of the championships.

"We had a really solid day," head coach Bill Webb said. "We competed. Every Vol who went to the line went hard. We're positioned well in this meet. We've just got to keep it up."

Tennessee's 4x100 relay powered into the finals courtesy of a heat-winning, season-best time of 39.02 in the prelims. The Vols' 39.02-second prelim time ranks third overall. The Volunteer quartet of Jeremy Burton, Jonathan Wade, Aries Merritt and Rubin Williams continue to get the stick around the track faster, no small feat because rain makes baton exchanges even tougher in the already volatile event.



Since Burton, a 400 hurdler by trade, took over leadoff duties for an injured 100 specialist Matthieu Pritchett in the Penn Relays 4x100 relay final on April 30, the Tennessee foursome has improved its time five consecutive outings. Tennessee's 39.02 qualifier vaulted the foursome of Burton, Wade, Merritt and Williams from eighth to third on the Vols' all-time list in the 4x100 relay. Tennessee's top three 4x100 relay squads have all been authored in last four years.

"I feel like I gave the stick to Aries in good standing," Wade said. "(On the hazards of passing the baton in wet conditions) It's more of a mental thing. You've got to take care of your job and do what you know you can do. It's that time of year when everybody starts running fast. Losing Pritchett was terrible, but we'll make do with what we have."

In the 110 hurdles prelims, Merritt won the third heat unpressed to stop the clock at 13.70. Merritt sliced through a whisper of a headwind to post the second-fastest prelim effort of the day. Moving on to the 110 hurdles semifinals, Merritt reserved his lane for the finals with a 13.69 effort, the fourth-fastest time in the two heats. Running second in the prelim and fourth in the semifinal, NCAA leader Merritt survived the cut to nine finalists who line up Friday for a chance at the title. While he wore white in the 110 hurdles prelims and to match his 4x100 relay mates, Merritt changed uniforms to don the traditional orange for his semifinal appearance.

"I'm happy with my day," Merritt said. "(On running three events in one afternoon) It was enough to get me tired. I couldn't warm up properly for the hurdles (semifinals) because of the rain. My technique was OK, but everything felt slow and overexaggerated."

In the hammer, Porter prudently sealed his finals qualifier on his first of three throws. With an intermittent rain making the throwing circle tougher to negotiate, Porter wisely uncorked a 215-feet, 1-inch throw on his first attempt in the second flight to put him in good shape to qualify for the finals. The mark led the competition until the second round of the third and final flight. Porter's 215-1 effort finished as the fourth-best qualifier on the day.

"I wanted to concentrate on the first one and do the best I could because the conditions could have gotten worse," Porter said. "Technically, it's the best I've felt all year. The things we've been working on in practice have started to come through."

Josh Whisman closed his collegiate career Wednesday with a 13th-place, 203-10 mark in the hammer qualifying. The top 12 qualified for the hammer final on Friday. Whisman's 13th-place effort missed qualifying for the finals by only 11 inches. His 13th-place finish matches his NCAA ranking entering the championships. After transferring from Missouri-Kansas City, Whisman traveled a long way in two years as a Volunteer. He leaves The Hill as the third-best hammer thrower (212-2) and sixth-best 35-lb. weight thrower (62-6 ¾) in school history.

Helwick moved up the scoreboard all day long to finish the first day of the decathlon in seventh place with 3,789 points, just 25 points out of sixth place. Helwick left a few points on the track to begin the meet with a 21st-place, 11.71 clocking in the decathlon 100. He bounced back to secure a tie for 10th in the long jump. Helwick neared his season best with a 22-8 ½ leap down the sand pit on his third and final jump.

Helwick continued to inch up the standings by notching the eighth-best shot put mark of 44-4 ¼ on his second of three attempts. Helwick's 44-4 ¼ shot put mark stands as an outdoor season best. After beginning the meet 21st after the first event, Helwick clawed to 10th after the third event. The steady Helwick maintained his upward momentum during the high jump. Helwick finished tied for fifth with a 6-5 ½ clearance during the rain-soaked event. Helwick capped his first day with a sixth-place, 50.10 time in the 400 to strengthen his overall seventh-place position.

Williams breezed through the 100 prelims with a time of 10.37, the third-best time in his heat and sixth-best time overall. The time is Williams' second fastest of the season and fastest since running 10.36 at the Gatorade Classic April 9. Like Merritt in the 110 hurdles, Williams' 100 semifinal marked his third race of the evening. In the 100 semifinals, Williams clocked in at 10.55 to rank tied for 15th, which didn't advance to the final. Williams entered the meet ranked 23rd in the NCAA in the 100. The freshman from San Jose, Calif., will get another chance at All-America acclaim in the 200 prelims and 4x100 final later in the meet.

In the steeplechase, Zach Sabatino finished 12th in his heat and 22nd overall. Sabatino ran the steeplechase in 8:50.80, less than a second off his lifetime-best time. Sabatino entered the meet with the 26th-best time.

"Aries qualified in a nice job," Webb said. "Garland Porter is in a really solid position. Josh had a great season, particularly the last few meets. Helwick is in a solid seventh place after closing the gap in the last event. We had a season best in the 4x100 relay. Rubin ran out of gas in the 100 semis, but it was a long day in the rain and he ran an excellent 4x100. Zach needs to drop another six to eight seconds in the steeple. I think he'll be back next year solid for us."

NCAA Championships, Sacramento, Calif.
1. Kyle Farmer, Fla. 10.30 Q
6. Rubin Williams, Tenn. 10.37 Q
1. Walter Dix, Fla. St. 10.30 Q
15-t. Rubin Williams, Tenn. 10.55
1. Peter Kosgei, Ark. 8:32.97 Q
22. Zach Sabatino, Tenn. 8:50.80
110 hurdles-preliminaries
1. Antwon Hicks, Miss. 13.57 Q
2. Aries Merritt, Tenn. 13.70 Q
110 hurdles-semifinals
1. Eric Mitchum, Ore. 13.62 Q
4. Aries Merritt, Tenn. 13.69 Q
4x100 relay-preliminaries
1. Florida38.91 Q
3. Tennessee 39.02 Q, SB
(Burton, Wade, Merritt, Williams)
1. Spyridon Jullien, Va. Tech 233-0 Q
4. Garland Porter, Tenn. 215-1 Q
13. Josh Whisman, Tenn. 203-10
Decathlon (after first five events)
1. Andrew Levin, Mont. 4,023
7. Chris Helwick, Tenn. 3,789
Decathlon 100
1. Trey Hardee, Texas 10.86
21. Chris Helwick, Tenn. 11.71
Decathlon long jump
1. Donovan Kilmartin, Texas 24-6 ½
10t. Chris Helwick, Tenn.22-8 ½
Decathlon shot put
1. Will Thomas, Conn. 50-0 ¾
8. Chris Helwick, Tenn. 44-4 ¼ SB
Decathlon high jump
1. Donovan Kilmartin, Texas 6-9
5-t. Chris Helwick, Tenn. 6-5 1/2
Decathlon 400
1. Trey Hardee, Texas 48.33
6. Chris Helwick, Tenn. 50.10
Q-qualified for event semifinals or final, SB-season-best mark, PR-personal record/career-best mark.


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