No. 2 Nice, But Coach Wants National Title

Auburn track and field coach Ralph Spry discusses his team's strong run at the NCAA Championships in Sacramento, California.

Sacramento, Calif.--When Ralph Spry and his Auburn men's team took the stage to accept the trophy as national runnerup at the NCAA Track And Field Championships there was definitely a frustration factor for the dynamic coach and his Tigers.

Ralph Spry

"A lot of teams would have loved to be where we finished and we are proud of what we accomplished, but it is bittersweet to us," Spry says. "We thought we had the firepower to win it all. We knew we would have to have a few breaks go our way to win it and it didn't happen. Arkansas got a few breaks and competed well and did what it had to do to win."

Auburn led the Razorbacks going into the final day of the four-day event, 37-30. Arkansas rallied on the strength of its distance running to score 59 points. The Razorbacks were expected to do well in those events, but picked up more points than forecast when several runners from other teams did not perform up to expectations. Auburn, which had a chance to win the meet until the next to last event, scored 50 points. Southern Cal was third with 41.5.

Dean Griffiths was one of three individual Auburn champions with his victory in the 400-meter hurdles.

"We were hoping to get some help against Arkansas on the final day, but that didn't happen," Spry says. "For example, they picked up extra points in the 1500 when the favorite in the race fell. Arkansas got the big break when Gabor Mate didn't score his 10 points for us in the discus."

If Mate, the two-time NCAA champion and NCAA record holder, had won as expected, the Tigers would have edged the Razorbacks 60-59 for their first NCAA team track title.

"Of course, we don't bet on track, but if you had to bet a million dollars on one event at the NCAA Championships on an athlete you expected to win, Gator Mate would have been the guy to pick," Spry says. "I believe if we had that discus competition a thousand more times, he would have won them all.

Gabor Mate

"Nobody feels worse about what happened than Gabor," the Auburn coach adds. "He came back an extra year to help this team take a shot at winning the title. His teammates fought hard after his mishap to win anyway so he wouldn't have this hanging over him at the end of his senior season. We fought hard, but just came up a little short."

Overall, Spry was pleased with the men's team performances in Sacramento. "We were hoping that Maurice Smith would finish at least second in the decathlon instead of third," Spry notes. "That would have scored us two more points."

Senior Sanjay Ayer had the talent to challenge for the 10 first place points in the 400-meter race on the final night as well as help the Tigers add points as the anchor man in the meet-closing 4x400 relay in which the Tigers were seventh. "It hurt us that Sanjay was running with a bad Achilles," Spry says. "I am proud of the job he did. He turned in good times. He had to suck it up and run, and, he did." Ayer finish sixth in 45.29, not far off his time of 45.10 he ran last year as a junior to take fourth. A fully healthy Ayer could have helped the 4x400 relay finish better than its seventh place showing.

Spry had special praise for his two seniors in the 400 hurdles--NCAA champ Dean Griffiths and third place finisher Fred Sharpe. The coach also noted that junior Leevan Sands was a huge contributor with 10 points for winning the long jump and eight for finishing second in the triple jump.

Auburn's other individual champion was Elva Goulbourne, the senior who won the long jump to close her AU career undefeated in the event. "She's a gifted athlete," Spry says. "She is a big-time talent with a bright future." Goulbourne is expected to be in the mix as a long jumper at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.

Senior Elva Goulbourne is shown as she wins the long jump. She never lost in that event as an Auburn competitor.

Overall, the women's team scored 18 points to finish 14th. LSU was the women's champ to give the SEC sweeps of both titles.

"Next year we have a chance to have an even stronger men's team," Spry says. "I am looking forward to that, but we would have really liked to have gotten the national title this year."

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