June 10, 2005
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Tennessee stands tied for seventh with 14 points, with two events left to score late Friday night, at the NCAA outdoor championships in Sacramento, Calif. The Volunteers' 4x100-meter relay team, 110 hurdler Aries Merritt and hammer thrower Garland Porter all earned All-America honors on the third day of the NCAA meet at Hornet Stadium in the Alex G. Spanos Sports Complex.
"The 4x100 relay was a fantastic finish to this year for us," head coach Bill Webb said. "We had to substitute our first leg earlier in the year and had a gimpy anchor leg, and all they did was run the third-fastest time in school history. It was a good showing for the Vols, all in all. Everybody who performed (Friday) is All-America, the cream of the crop."
Tennessee served up a healthy dose of heroics in the 4x100 relay, finishing third with a banged up anchor man after entering the meet with just the eighth-best time in the land. The Vols sent their constantly improving quartet of Jeremy Burton, Jonathan Wade, Aries Merritt and Rubin Williams to the final. The foursome ran a season-best time of 38.83 seconds to become the third-fastest 4x100 relay team in Tennessee's proud history.
Even the team's lineup was a question mark. After anchor man Williams tweaked his hamstring in the 200 semifinals Thursday night, Tennessee's coaching staff sent Chris Helwick, who placed fifth after two grueling days of the decathlon Thursday, to warm up and replace Williams. With only steeplechaser Zach Sabatino and hammer men Garland Porter and Josh Whisman on the trip, even a Helwick on dead legs was deemed Tennessee's best hope if Williams couldn't race. In the greatest tradition of the Volunteer, Williams decided 15 minutes before the race was to begin that he would attempt the relay.
"Even though we have a lot of individuals on this team and sometimes fight like brothers, we always have the mindset that it's always about the team," Williams said. "I wanted to be on a Tennessee All-America relay team. I wasn't sure I could go until 15 minutes before the gun. We're not pleased with third. We expected to break the school record and win no matter what team we put out there. Even though we ran a season best a couple of handoffs weren't on the same page. I just prayed nothing would happen to me during the race."
"I expected to run that fast because of adrenaline," Burton said. "We critiqued what we needed to in the prelims and made adjustments in the final. (On running the 4x100 when his specialty is the 400 hurdles) I've been in this situation a lot in Junior Olympics and high school track. I've always run the leadoff leg. That's one of the reasons I was recruited to Tennessee. I've been compared to Hassaan Stamps (the hurdler who ran the third leg on Tennessee's 2001 and `02 school record team whose speed was decent but his effort and stickwork unquestioned). You couldn't get him off a relay."
The unconventional team that sent a 400 hurdler on the leadoff leg, a 110 hurdler on the third leg and a banged up anchor man into the fray against a field of more heralded sprinters finished in 38.83. The time finished just behind the 38.66 school record run in 2001 and 2002 by Sean Lambert, Justin Gatlin, Hassaan Stamps and Leonard Scott, which included what turned out to be two of the finest professional sprinters in the world in Gatlin and Scott.
In individual action, Merritt finished fifth in a star-studded 110 hurdles final after clocking in at 13.56. Already one of the featured events of the meet, the tension ramped up even more when MTSU's Linnie Yarbrough was disqualified for a false start in lane two beside Merritt.
Merritt earned his second hurdles All-America certificate of the year, as he also took fifth in the 60 hurdles at the NCAA indoor meet. Overall, the sophomore has earned four All-America honors counting the 2005 4x100 relay and fourth-place finish in the 110 hurdles at the 2004 NCAA outdoors. Merritt's 13.38 time to win the SEC title still stands as the fastest by a collegian this year.
"I had a decent start," Merritt said. "I never, ever hit hurdles in a race, but tonight I hit at least five of the 10. I wasn't executing. False starts are going to happen (in the next lane). I just didn't have a technically clean race. I'll come back with a vengeance at the USA nationals. I've got two more years to come home with one (a title) at the NCAA meet."
Garland Porter concluded his collegiate career with a ninth-place finish in the hammer final, bumping up his premeet NCAA ranking of 10th by one spot. Porter finished with a 204-feet, 7-inch mark. Porter's ninth-place finish garnered another All-America honor for the senior from Indianapolis, Ind., because he ranked as the seventh American in the final. Porter becomes the first Volunteer to earn All-America honors in the hammer since school record holder Wes Boudreau took eighth in 1997.
Porter notched the 204-7 throw on his second of six throws. In his two years as a Volunteer after transferring from Barton County Community College, Porter smashed the school's weight throw record repeatedly indoors, reestablishing the final mark at 72-5 ¾. He also marched to second on the Tennessee all-time list in the hammer throw with a lifetime best of 216-8.
"Aries was in a highly competitive race," Webb said. "He probably spotted world-class runners too much to make up. Garland is certainly disappointed. He had a great career at Tennessee. He just picked the wrong day to have a bad day. He'll regroup for the USA championships."
Williams' status for the 200 final Saturday will be evaluated. After the Vols conclude the NCAA championships Saturday, the Tennessee staff will focus its attention on the upcoming USA outdoor championships, where the nation's best collegians join their professional counterparts in a heated competition for a spot in the World Championships later this summer.
|NCAA Championships, Sacramento, Calif.|
Friday, June 10, 2005
|All-America honorees/Tennessee scorers-Four points|
|4x100 relay (Jeremy Burton, Jonathan Wade, Aries Merritt, Rubin Williams), six points, third, 38.83|
|Chris Helwick, four points, fifth, decathlon, 7,569 points|
|Aries Merritt, four points, fifth, 110 hurdles, 13.56|
|1. Josh Walker, Fla.||13.39|
|5. Aries Merritt, Tenn.||13.56|
|3. Tennessee||38.83 SB|
|(Burton, Wade, Merritt, Williams)|
|1. Spyridon Jullien, Va. Tech||231-1|
|9. Garland Porter, Tenn.||204-7|
|SB-season-best mark, PR-personal record/career-best mark.|