June 11, 2003
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Tennessee head coach Bill Webb always says the NCAA Outdoor meet resembles a roller-coaster with plenty of high and low points along the four-day ride. As the first day of the NCAA Outdoor Championships concluded Wednesday night at Sacramento State's Hornet Stadium, the Vols saw their fair share of peaks with a nearly perfect qualifying effort but also hit a deep valley which cut back on Tennessee's scoring power in the team title race.
Tennessee put together a strong qualifying effort almost all the way across the board where every Vol but one advanced to the semifinal or final round. Meanwhile, both Stephen Harris and Kevin Thompson put together a strong first five events in the decathlon. However, illness robbed Tennessee of valuable points from collegiate leader Marc Sylvester in the 800m run. Only qualifying events were held Wednesday. Therefore, no teams had scoring opportunities which come with the finals.
In a big change from the vast majority of the outdoor season, the meet was contested under sunny skies. However, when the sun sank low in the western Sacramento sky the stiff delta breeze brought cool air from the Pacific Ocean and substituted shivering for sunburns.
"Other than one big hit, Tennessee had a great day," Webb said. "If we have people continue to step up and deal with adversity, we'll still be battling for a top position. We qualified extremely well. Stephen Harris had a PR in his last event of the day and won three events. He's in good position to make a run at the title. Nobody deserves it more. Kevin Thompson is in solid position. It's going to be extremely competitive for the last few scoring spots [in the decathlon]. Sean Lambert had a tremendous day qualifying in the 100m dash after running three races. Our 4x100m relay looked terrific right down to the wire. We'll get a good lane in the finals. Both our hurdlers got in. I feel bad for Marc Sylvester. In his defense, he's been really sick. He tried to step on the gas and just didn't have anything. He just got sick at an inopportune time."
Tennessee's decathletes both finished the first day in the scoring mix. The Vol captain Harris leads the 24 decathletes remaining in the field after the first five events. Harris accumulated 4,229 points in the first day's action, 129 points ahead of current second-place man Will Thomas of Connecticut. In his last season, Thompson stands poised in eighth place with 3,858 points following the first five events. Additionally, the scores are tight above him with the Germantown native just 99 points out of fifth place.
Harris won three of the five events -- the 100m dash in 10.87, the long jump in 24-7.25 and closed the day on a dominating win in the 400m dash in a lifetime-best 47.96. Harris' 4,229 points puts him where he needs to be entering the final day, although his first-day total of 4,379 from his collegiate-leading score from the College Station Decathlon in March stands a little better. Harris would have liked to cleared another bar or two in the high jump and thought he had a foot or so more in him in the shot put. Plus, the decathletes ran against a bit of a headwind in the 100m dash which cut back a few points.
"I'm a little tired," Harris said after his five-event workday. "The team standings are in the future. The way to take care of that is to take care of what you can do yourself. There is pressure. I just have to compete, have fun and take care of business. Win or lose I've had a great four years as a member of the University of Tennessee track and field team."
Like Harris, Thompson put together a steady day. The law student made a move up the leaderboard with a fifth-place, 45-8 heave in the shot put. His season-best, 49.29 clocking to close his day in the 400m dash helped solidify his position.
Sean Lambert wins the Ironman Award for conduct most befitting a Volunteer for his tireless pursuit of perfection Wednesday. Qualifying for the NCAA meet with a gutsy last-chance regional performance, Lambert earned his finals lane the hard way. He finished the day with the ninth-fastest qualifier and fourth-fastest time in his heat in the 100m dash semifinals to nudge his way into the finals. Earlier in the morning, the junior's 10.44 effort stood as the fastest preliminary time of the four heats and 28 sprinters.
His reward will be a lane in the 100m dash and 4x100m relay finals. He had the longest day of any Vol, opening the Tennessee effort at 10:45 a.m. PT in the 100m dash preliminaries, running a quality third leg on the 4x100m relay at 6:05 p.m. and capping the night for the Vols with a qualifying effort in the 100m dash semifinals at 9:15 p.m. Lambert rose with the sun in anxious anticipation and finished his third successful race of the day long after the sun called it a day.
|Tennessee's Sean Lambert, right, hands off the baton to anchor Jonathan Wade, center, during a preliminary heat of the 4x100 relays at the NCAA track and field championships in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)|
"It was certainly a day to remember," Lambert said. "I'm finally getting to the point where I can feel everything I'm doing in my race. "[On his extended workday] I knew coming in it was going to be like this. I got as much rest as I could last week and the last two days we've been here. I'm happy about it."
Tennessee's 4x100m relay easily qualified for Friday's final with the day's second-fastest preliminary time. With solid handoffs Tennessee's Jabari Greer, Gary Kikaya, Lambert and Jonathan Wade got the baton around the track in a season-best 38.85, just one-hundredth of a second behind leader LSU. The quartet stands as the second-fastest Tennessee 4x100m relay team ever behind last year's school-record holders at 38.66--Lambert, Justin Gatlin, Hassaan Stamps and Leonard Scott. The 4x100m relay final should be quite a race as the stadium record fell after each of the three heats Wednesday.
"I think I took off a little early," anchor man Wade said. "Sean and I can work on that. It felt good, though. I know it will definitely be a race in the finals Friday."
Both Vol 110m hurdlers advanced to the semifinals with a 1-2 finish in the fourth heat. NCAA leader Greer's 13.86 claimed first in his heat and seventh overall in the high hurdle preliminaries. Karl Jennings didn't let his at-large bid go to waste with his 13.87 prelim time. Jennings' effort finished second in his heat, just an eyeblink behind Greer, and eighth among 18 semifinalists.
The NCAA Championships added a wrinkle to qualifiers in the field events this year with a qualifying day added before the finals. The wrinkle didn't slow down either of the Vol field eventers as Rocky Danners and Leigh Smith survived to advance to the finals on Friday. In the pole vault, Danners cleared two bars on his first attempt to qualify tied for first among 15 finalists. All the competitors successfully over at 16-10.75, the second bar, advanced to the finals. Danners was one of six vaulters to successful clear both bars on their first attempt.
Meanwhile, Smith captured one of 12 qualifying marks in the javelin with his 10th-place, 222-11 measurement. The competition was divided into three flights. Smith's mark placed fourth in the first flight.
Misfortune in the 800m run cast a shadow on Tennessee's title hopes. After battling a viral infection for a week, Sylvester just didn't have enough left in the tank to make it out of the 800m run qualifying. It was a textbook case of the mind willing but the body unable. The sophomore finished last in his heat and 22nd overall in 1:50.60, more than four seconds slower than his SEC championship time. Sylvester's SEC-winning time of 1:46.56 stood as the NCAA's best entering the meet, and the Vols were counting on big points from the two-lap specialist to mount a team title challenge. Vol distance mentor George Watts and the training staff hoped Sylvester would be strong enough to sneak through the first round of qualifying and hope another night's rest would see him through Thursday's 800m semifinal. However, it became apparent a week of trying to fend off illness sapped Sylvester's strength when he tried to mount his trademark charge down the last 150m and didn't gain any ground on the talented field.
The Volunteers line up for another powerhouse day Thursday at the NCAA Championships.
Wade opens the effort with a preliminary 200m contest at 10:40 a.m. PT and
perhaps a semifinals appearance that night. Greer and Jennings line up in the
110m hurdles semifinals at high noon. Kikaya's prelim effort in the 400m dash
is also on the docket. Tennessee gets two scoring chances as the decathlon
wraps up Thursday night. Patrick
Gildea also runs the 10,000m run final to cap the night at 9:40 p.m. PT.