TRACK: Florida Men win three titles on final day

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The No. 2 University of Florida men's track and field team won both the 4x100m and 4x400m relays, while sophomore Kerron Clement (La Porte, Texas) captured the 400m hurdles title in leading the Gators to second place, while the No. 9 women's squad finished eighth at the Southeastern Conference Outdoor Championships Sunday at Vanderbilt Track.

The men scored 116 points to finish second to Arkansas, which won the meet with 169 points. The Gators entered the final event, the 4x400m relay, tied with Tennessee for second with 106 points. The Vols finished third with 109. On the women's side, South Carolina took the title with 145.20 points with the Gator women scoring 32.16 to finish eighth.

Florida's 4x100m relay team entered the meet ranked third and the foursome of freshman Richard Adu-Bobie (Orleans, Canada), sophomore Mike Morrison (Willingboro, N.J.), senior Kyle Farmer (Columbia, Md.) and Clement eclipsed the field in 39.10. Clement broke the SEC meet record and recorded a personal-best in winning the 400m hurdles in 48.29 with the nation's top time this season. The 4x400m relay of junior Sekou Clarke (Kingston, Jamaica), sophomore Reggie Witherspoon (Marietta, Ga.), freshman Bernard Middleton (Jacksonville, Fla.) and Clement broke the SEC meet record with a time 3:02.23. Senior Josh Walker (Stone Mountain, Ga.), the defending champion in the 110m hurdles, posted a runner-up finish in the same event.

"We never come here to finish second," Florida men's coach Mike Holloway said. "My hat's off to Arkansas - they're a great team. I am pleased with how we did. We came here and ended up performing well and doing what I thought we could. This gives us great momentum going into regionals and then nationals."

Leading the charge for the ninth-ranked women was freshman All-American Natalie Knight (Snellville, Ga.) who finished third in the 200m with a time of 23.38.

"The freshmen really had a heck of a meet," women's coach Tom Jones said. "Natalie especially was impressive. To come back from the 4x100m relay to run the 200m the way she did is quite an accomplishment."

With Tennessee and Florida tied with 106 points entering the final race of the evening, the Gators needed to finish only ahead of the Vols for second. Tennessee ran in the opening heat and clocked a 3:10.26. Florida fell behind LSU early in the second heat with Witherspoon pulling nearly even with the Tigers at the second exchange. The two relays were even at the third exchange before LSU pulled slightly ahead. Clement let loose on the final leg, clocking a sub-45 leg as the Gators won with a meet record of 3:02.23. Florida became the first team since LSU in 1996 to win both the 4x100m and 4x400m at the same meet.

Florida's 4x100m relay came through with 10 points for the Gators after matching their season-best with a time of 39.10. The foursome of Adu-Bobie, Morrison, Farmer and Clement was in contention from the start with Clement providing a solid anchor leg as he pulled away from LSU, which finished second in 39.31. The win was Florida's sixth SEC title in the 4x100m and first since 2000. With the win, the Gators moved to third place with 50 points, trailing Tennessee (68) and Arkansas (55).

"I'm proud of all the guys on the relay," Morrison said. "We wanted to come out and run strong and we came through. We wanted to come out and score as many points for the team as we could and we did that."

Clement, who ran four races on the day, dominated the 400m hurdles, winning the event by nearly half a second in posting the nation's top time in 2005 with a mark of 48.29.

"I just wanted to come out and execute," Clement said. "I've been trying to stutter-step less in practice. I'm pretty pleased with my time - anytime you set a PR you've got to be a little happy."

Following the 4x100m, senior Steve Zieminski (Sarasota, Fla.) then gave the Gators five points in the 1,500m by finishing fourth with a regional time of 3:47.92. Following the event, the Gators remained in third with 55 points with the Razorbacks (71) in first and the Vols (68) in second.

The Gators closed the gap in the 110m hurdles as Walker and Clement finished 2-6 to give Florida 11 points. Aries Merritt of Tennessee exploded out of the blocks and took control of the race early before winning in 13.38. Walker was close behind the entire race before crossing the line second in 13.48. Clement, in his second race of the evening, was sixth in 14.08.

Florida came within one point of the lead after the 400m as Witherspoon and Clarke took third and sixth to give the Gators 75 points - three behind Tennessee (78) and within one of Arkansas (76). Running in lane one, Witherspoon circled the track in 46.30 as LSU's Kelly Willie pulled away from the field with a time of 45.92. Clarke ended the race in sixth with a time of 46.57.

Sophomore Tim Skeper (Hamden, Conn.) then provided the Gators with two points by placing seventh in the javelin with a toss of 59.77m/196-1. Arkansas scored eight points in the event to move into first with 84 points with Tennessee second (83) and the Gators in third (77).

Florida performed well in the 100m as Farmer and Adu-Bobie notched a 3-7 finish to give the Gators eight points and tighten the race for the title. Arkansas padded its lead in moving to 97 points, but Florida closed to within two of Tennessee for second with the Vols having 87 points to Florida's 85. Mississippi State's Steve Mullings claimed the win in 10.15 with Farmer in third in 10.35 and Adu-Bobie taking seventh in 10.54.

The Gators had no competitors in the 800m as Tennessee and Arkansas slightly distanced themselves. But Florida stormed back in the 400m hurdles with Clement's victory with senior Dwight Ruff (Sicklerville, N.J.) finishing fourth. Arkansas held the lead with 111. Clement controlled the race from the start before losing ground in the final stretch. But he regained his composure and pulled away in the final 30 meters to win in 48.29. Ruff claimed fourth in 50.21.

The Gators stretched their lead a point after Farmer finished fifth in the 200m with a time of 20.70. His finish was one spot ahead of Tennessee's Rubin Williams as Florida's lead expanded to 104-102 over the Vols with Arkansas pulling away with 125 points.

Junior Richard Lawrence (Miami, Fla.) took seventh in the triple jump to give the Gators two points and set up the showdown in the 4x400m with Tennessee. Lawrence was in 10th going into his final leap before posting a mark of 14.85m/48-8.75. The Vols took fifth in the event to even the point total for second at 106 apiece for the two teams.

On the women's side, Knight also anchored the all freshmen 4x100m relay team of Lakecia Ealey (Albany, Ga.), Traci Ann Henry (Evanston, Ill.) and Kia Raf (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.), which placed fourth in an NCAA regional qualifying time of 44.71 securing five points for UF.

The Gators put up a crooked number in the pole vault as sophomore Dana Van Wagner (Sparr, Fla.) and seniors Chelo Canino (Valrico, Fla.) and Chandra Lacombe (Winter Haven, Fla.) collected 3.16 points in the pole vault. Van Wagner finished in a tie for sixth clearing the NCAA regional standard of 3.80m/12-05.50 while Lacombe and Canino each cleared the opening height of 3.65m/11-11.75 on their first attempts to put them in a three way tie for eighth.

The Gators were without three athletes who posted the top time in their respective events coming into the championships. Sophomore All-American Tiandra Ponteen (St. Kitts) had the fastest time in the conference in the 400m and would have been the anchor on Florida's 4x400m relay team Sunday but was sidelined with a hamstring injury. Candice Scott and Liz Wanless left the team on May 4. Scott was ranked number one in the hammer throw and second in the shot put before she left the Gators. Wanless was ranked number one in the SEC in the shot put before her departure.

Florida will return to action for the NCAA East Regional meet, which takes place May 27-28 at Icahn Stadium in New York, N.Y.

Men's Team Scores

1. Arkansas 169; 2. Florida 116; 3. Tennessee 109;4. Georgia 99; 5. LSU 76; 6. Auburn 68; 7. Mississippi St. 57; 8. Alabama 39; 9. South Carolina 29; 10. Mississippi 28; 11. Kentucky 28

Women's Team Scores

1. South Carolina 145.20; 2. Arkansas 124.20; 3. Tennessee 108.33; 4. Georgia 106.20; 5. Auburn 81.50; 6. LSU 78; 7. Alabama 54; 8. Florida 32.16; 9. Kentucky 31; 10. Mississippi 26.40; 11. Vanderbilt 12; 12. Mississippi St. 12

SEC Champions (4):

400m hurdles: Kerron Clement High jump: Mike Morrison 4x100m: Richard Adu-Bobie, Mike Morrison, Kyle Farmer, Kerron Clement 4x400m: Sekou Clarke, Reggie Witherspoon, Bernard Middleton, Kerron Clement

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