Auburn's surest bet to score points and the heavy favorite to win his third NCAA discus championship didn't get out of the qualifying rounds. Gabor Mate, who owns the NCAA record at nearly 220 feet, finished 15th in the qualifier with a toss of 181 feet, two inches.
"Nothing like this has ever happened to me," Mate said. "I threw fine in the warm-ups, but when I stepped into the circle I just went blank. I feel like I have really let the team down, but I am just going to come back in the hammer and hope for the best."
Mate has a chance to score in the hammer, his secondary event, but has never thrown close to the distance needed to win an NCAA title in that event.
Auburn was also hoping for a first or second place finish in the decathlon from junior Maurice Smith, however, he was third with 7,854 points. Tennessee's Stephen Harris, who led after the first day's competition, won the event with 8,061 points. UConn's Will Thomas scored 7,894 to edge Smith. Thomas outscored the Auburn competitor by 208 points in the pole vault on Thursday to allow him to finish second. Smith cleared 16 feet, four 3/4 inch while Thomas could go just 14 feet, one and 1/4 inch, which was his best career jump in competition.
Thomas scored six points for the first place while Harris got 10 for Tennessee and UConn eight for the second place finish. On Thursday, Smith ran a 14.50 in the 100 hurdles and set a personal record in the javelin, tossing it 185 feet, five inches.
Maurice Smith prepares to throw the shot put for the Tigers in day two of the decathlon.
"I did what I had to do for the team," Smith said. "I put the first points on the board with my third place finish. I was hoping for a better finish. I was expected to have a better finish, but things happen. I struggled with a few things like my knee and my groin, but we have a great training staff that got me ready to come out and do what I had to do, score and third place is definitely better than fourth."
"We are still in this," Auburn coach Ralph Spry said. "We just need to regroup and refocus on what is yet to come. We still have a lot of bullets in the chamber. We just can't make any more mistakes."
Not all the news from Sacramento was bad for the Tigers. Senior Dean Griffiths ran personal best time of 48.57 to finish first in the semi-finals of the 400 meter hurdles. Teammate Fred Sharpe advanced to Friday's finals with a time of 49.27. "I feel really good right now," Griffiths said. "I feel strong and I am in great shape. I just want to go back out and win."
In other news from the NCAA meet:
*One of Auburn's top performers came through on Thursday for a second straight day. After easily qualifying for the finals of the long jump, Leevan Sands did the same thing in the triple jump by going 54 feet, 6 3/4 inches on his first jump. That was good enough to allow him to call it at day. He will try to win the triple jump on Saturday after going for the long jump title on Friday.
*Sanjay Ayer ran his best time of the season, a 45.62, to take second in his heat and advance to the semi-finals in the 400 meters scheduled on Friday.
*Ayer, Griffiths, Sharpe and Tim Green ran the third fastest qualifying time in the 4x400 relay. Texas Tech qualified first in 3:03.26 with Baylor second at 3:04.12. Auburn ran a 3:05.08, its fastest time of the season.
*Daniele Browning ran a time of 23.42 in the 200 meters to advance to the finals of that event scheduled for Saturday.
*Josanne Lucas, who qualified for the semi-finals on Wednesday, but was 13th and did not qualify with her time of 58.22.