June 14, 2003
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Tennessee's track and field squad sits in a tie for fourth place with 21 points as the third day of the NCAA Outdoor Championships came to a close Friday night at Sacramento State's Hornet Stadium.
The Volunteers finished the day much better than they started as the 4x100m relay team took silver in a noteworthy performance, Sean Lambert took sixth in the 100m dash and Kikaya qualified easily for the 400m dash finals. However, vestiges of Friday the 13th hovered as Tennessee went pointless in the pole vault and javelin.
In a meet full of surprises for many teams, one thing that doesn't surprise anyone is that the Southeastern Conference is dominating the top seven after three days. Auburn put together a good day to lead the show with 37 points. Arkansas stands second with 30 points. Florida stands third with 23 points. Meanwhile, the Volunteers and Bayou Bengals of LSU stand tied for fourth with 21 points. Nebraska stands as the lone non-SEC intruder into the top seven in sixth place with 20 points. Georgia wraps up the top seven teams with 19 points.
"We finished strong with Kikaya qualifying in the 400 and Lambert's strong sixth-place finish in the 100," head coach Bill Webb said. "Our 4x100m relay ran the second-fastest time in school history. We missed a couple of opportunities early but we got back into it and finished strong.
Runner-up Tennessee continued its impressive three-year string of finishing in the top three of the 4x100m relay. Donning all-white body suits for the second time in school history, the Volunteer quartet of Jabari Greer, Gary Kikaya, Sean Lambert and Jonathan Wade steamed to a 38.72 time, just seven-hundredths of a second behind winner LSU. The Vols' 38.72 worksheet stands as the fastest time ever for a Tennessee team in the NCAA 4x100m relay finals. Meanwhile, the Vols improved on their second-place, 38.85 4x100m relay prelim time from Wednesday.
Tennessee finished second in the 4x100m relay in 2001 and third in the event in 2002 with an all-star cast of Lambert, Justin Gatlin, Hassaan Stamps and Leonard Scott passing the baton. Even more impressive, running without such luminaries as Gatlin and Scott, Tennessee's time of 38.72 stands just an eyeblink behind the school record time of 38.66, run in 2001 and '02 by the above all-star cast. Also for the first time in this three-year golden age for the Vol 4x100m relay team, the 2003 Tennessee foursome was the only group to run faster in the finals than it did in the qualifying heat.
Always important in the 4x100m relay, the Vols got through all three baton exchanges fluidly with no double-clutching involved on any of the handoffs. Greer led off the effort, getting up and out of the blocks in a hurry, shaking off the trouble that dogged him yesterday in the 110m hurdles semifinals. Kikaya, in a performance he called "my best 4x100m leg ever," sped forth into a dead heat with leading LSU when he handed off to Lambert. Lambert ran the final curve with a purpose and handed off to the freshman Wade with what appeared to be a slight lead on the Bayou Bengals. Wade took the baton and ran a nice anchor leg, bringing the Vols home in a close second place.
"We've got the best coach in the nation in Coach Anderson," leadoff man Greer said. "He told me the adjustments to make and I made them. I kept my feet down, kept pushing through the exchange and I didn't overstride. But LSU was the better team today and I congratulate them. I just hope I can get better. I could have done just a little bit more of something to help out my team. With Sean Lambert and Jonathan Wade here, we can be national champions in the future. They'll have another chance. It's just like some people said it [Tennessee's 4x100m relay hopes] was over when Justin Gatlin and 26 [Leonard Scott, who wore uniform number. 26 in football] left, but this is Tennessee and we've got more in us.
The Vols were rewarded with eight points and All-America status for the runner-up finish, needed tonic to combat some of the tough luck floating around thus far in the meet for the Tennesseans. The eight points boosted Tennessee back into a tie for second, the Vols' highwater mark of the day, with Arkansas' 18 points briefly, just one point behind leading Georgia. But then the 400m hurdle finals knocked the Vols into a tie for third as Auburn made a move to the top of the leaderboard where the Tigers remain entering the final day of the championships.
"I was focused on executing and getting the stick to Jonathan," Lambert said. "We ran very fast. In every race we've run faster [than the one before]. We focused and hit our marks so I'm satisfied. This will definitely be one of the days to remember.
Meanwhile, Lambert put a cap on one of the best days of his collegiate career. The junior took sixth, contributing three points and earning his second All-America certificate of the day, with a time of 10.43 in a high-intensity 100m dash final.
Serving as Friday's last event, the grandstands remained filled as the nine 100m finalists lined up on the straightaway. With the crowd anxious for the start of what some consider the most exciting 10 seconds in sports, the gun went off -- and sounded again promptly signifying a dreaded false start. Oklahoma's DaBryan Blanton was pulled from the track and lane three remained empty. With the crowd's tension racheted even higher, the sprinters lined back up and the gun went off again -- and promptly again in a rare second false start, though no one could really be surprised given all the odd happenings thus far in the meet. This time Mississippi State's Marquis Davis was the offender and was removed from the track. Finally, the race went off on the third try with the fans jumping up from their seats in anticipation of the stampeding sprinters as Lambert finishing sixth, running in the ninth lane closest to the grandstand.
"The false starts had no effect," Lambert said. "I knew it wasn't me, so that's all I was concerned about. I come away from this meet satisfied after all the disappointment a few weeks ago at SECs. This redeems me.
Lambert scrapped with a gutsy regional performance to get in the meet after a disappointing SEC show. The junior overachieved by taking sixth after entering the NCAA meet with the 11th-fastest qualifier, and that came on a last-ditch effort. Sprint coach Vince Anderson termed the unconventional race "a test of poise" and further said that the "seven guys who stayed have it.
In a strong semifinal qualifying success, Kikaya's season-best 45.25 qualified easily for the 400m dash finals. Kikaya continued to trim down his time after running a previous season-best 45.37 in the prelims Thursday. Running in lane five in the middle of the track, Kikaya went out fast. Amidst a "Congo" chant from his teammates in the grandstands, the senior from Kinshasa, Congo, turned on the jets from about the 75m to 250m mark to take the lead in his second semifinals heat. Sensing he was safely in the top three qualifiers in the heat, Kikaya shut it down.
"The race felt fine," Kikaya said. "I tried to back off a little bit to save some for tomorrow. I wanted to go out hard and maintain, and that's what I did. I'm just waiting for tomorrow for the big show.
However, the Vols missed out on a few points in the field event finals Friday. Junior Leigh Smith was nothing if not consistent. Smith finished 10th, just missing one of the nine finals spots with a 223-3 mark. Smith was 10th all over as he ranked 10th coming into the meet, posted the 10th-best throw in Wednesday's qualifying and finished 10th Friday. His distance in Sacramento also proved consistent. Smith's Friday attempt exceeded by four inches his qualifying throw of 222-11 from Wednesday.
The throw was the first one out of the bag as Smith fouled his second and third heaves. Smith ends his junior season third on Tennessee's all-time javelin list with his career-best mark of 236-6 to win this year's SEC title.
The Sacramento skies weren't particularly kind to pole vaulter Rocky Danners either. After a perfect qualifying run of two attempts and two clearances Wednesday, Danners could only manage one clearance at 16-10.75 Friday night. Danners tied for 12th after entering the meet with the 10th-best qualifier, ending an injury-hampered season. Danners missed his first attempt at 16-10.75 but cleared it on his second try. However, the Killeen, Texas, native missed three tries at 17-4.5. To add insult to injury, Danners bounced off the landing mat on his final miss and landed, without injury thankfully, on the ground to the left of the mat.
However, Danners' legacy is secure as he concludes his Tennessee career with three All-America certificates, two SEC titles and ranked seventh on Tennessee 's all-time pole vault list with an 18-1 skyscraper in 2002.
Tennessee wraps up the NCAA Outdoor Championships Saturday night with two
more chances to score. Karl Jennings earned a spot in the 110m hurdles the
hard way after his at-large qualifier following regionals and subsequent march
through the NCAA preliminaries and semifinals. Kikaya will also line up in
the 400m finals in a scoring opportunity.