March 3, 2012
BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Two Tennessee track & field athletes put themselves into position for NCAA Indoor Championship meet berths Saturday, competing in the Virginia Tech Final Qualifier last chance meet at Rector Field House.
Lady Vol senior Ellen Wortham, already an NCAA qualifier with Tennessee's distance medley relay team, appears to have punched her ticket to the national meet in the 400 meters as well. Previously the owner of a 53.49 clocking that ranked her 19th in the NCAA, she rolled to a career-best and victorious performance of 52.99 seconds on Saturday to ascend to No. 8 on the 2012 qualifying list. She ran that time despite winning her heat by more than two seconds and finished nearly a second-and-a-half ahead of the event's runner-up.
Wortham's mark elevated her to the No. 3 all-time indoor 400m runner in UT history behind world-class runners DeeDee Trotter (U.S.) and Patricia Hall (Jamaica), who had bests of 51.29 and 51.96 during their Lady Vol careers. Wortham, a product of Maryville High School, had begun the season ranked 14th all-time at UT at 55.04 in the indoor 400 meters.
Sophomore Chase Brannon, meanwhile, improved his stock in the men's pole vault. He came into the meet ranked 21st nationally with a best mark of 17 feet, 3 3/4 inches and moved into contention for a national berth with a runner-up showing and new personal record of 17-8 1/4 at Va. Tech. That mark boosted him to No. 13 nationally, and the NCAA took 17 vaulters to last year's indoor meet. The clearance also moved the second-year vaulter to No. 9 on UT's all-time indoor performers list in that event.
Also seeking improved pole vault performances were senior Robert Rasnick and sophomore Tyler Porter. Standing 30th at 17-3 3/4 to begin the day, Rasnick wound up seventh this afternoon at 17-2 1/4. Porter (48th, 17-0 1/4) also was unable to improve, clearing 16-2 1/2 and placing 13th.
Wortham also finished second at the meet in the women's long jump at 19-9 3/4, a mark she achieved on her fourth attempt before fouling her final two tries. She had entered the competition ranked 21st nationally at 20-5, so unless a few women ahead of her opt not to compete in the long jump at the NCAA meet, she will not qualify in that event.
In her third event of the day, Wortham joined senior Brittany Jones, sophomore Kianna Ruff and junior Martinique Octave on UT's 4x400m relay tandem. The quartet ranked ninth nationally entering the meet at 3:34.76 and hoped to improve its time to avoid being overtaken by other teams running at last chance meets this weekend. While the Big Orange won in 3:36.98, they had no competition to help them run faster. Duke and Charlotte were unable to challenge the Lady Vols, finishing in 3:40.34 and 3:40.67 as the only other teams in the race.
The Lady Vol 4x4 was originally slated to run in the Alex Wilson Invitational at Notre Dame, but bad weather forced the cancellation of the squad's flight on Friday. That meet offered a better environment for improvement, as witnessed by two teams (North Carolina and East Carolina) dipping below Tennessee's time at 3:33.97 and 3:34.02, respectively, on Saturday. The Tennessee quartet will have to wait until Monday evening to see now whether or not it makes the cut.
Vol freshman Jamol James was unable to take advantage of the last chance opportunity to qualify. Running in the 60m dash preliminary round, he felt a twinge in his left leg and did not finish the race. He stood 37th in the nation with a top time of 6.72 before the day began, so his climb to the national meet would have been steep in any case.
Men's Pole Vault: 2. Chase Brannon, 17-8.25/5.39m!; 7. Robert Rasnick, 17-2.25/5.24m; 13. Tyler Porter, 16-2.50/4.94m
Men's 60m Dash Prelims: dnf - Jamol James, ht. 3 (injured)
Women's 400m: 1. Ellen Wortham, 52.99b!/1st, ht. 1
Women's 4x400m Relay: 1. Ellen Wortham / Brittany Jones / Kianna Ruff / Martinique Octave, 3:36.98b
Women's Long Jump: 2. Ellen Wortham, 19-9.75/6.04m
* - NCAA Automatic Mark, ! - Personal Best, ^ - Oversized Track, $ - SEC Record, a - American Record, adv. - Advanced to next round, b - Banked Track, c - Collegiate Record, dna - Did Not Advance, dnf - Did Not Finish, dq - Disqualified, dnr - Did Not Run, F - Foul, f - Facility Record, fr - Freshman Record, fs - False Start, H - Heptathlon, h - Hand-Timed, mr - Meet Record, nm - No Mark, p - Time Run In Prelims, P - Pentathlon, sr - School Record, u - Undersized Track, w - World Record