Six Track Vols make Nationals

Tennessee placed seventh at last weekend's Mideast Regional meet in Columbus, Ohio, but six Vols qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Championships with top-five finishes.

Locking up NCAA slots were 400m man Gary Kikaya, 100m man Sean Lambert, 800m man Marc Sylvester, the 4x100m relay, javelin thrower Leigh Smith and 110m hurdler Jabari Greer. The Vols could add more qualifiers when the NCAA committee makes its final at-large bids late tonight. Decathletes Stephen Harris and Kevin Thompson are already in the NCAAs with previous automatic qualifiers. Likewise, Patrick Gildea's 10,000m provisional time from earlier in the season will probably get him in the show, as well.

SEC champion Arkansas won the team title with 73 points, five points ahead of runner-up Auburn's 68-point total. The Vols clocked in at seventh with 36 points. Six of the top 10 teams belong to the SEC.

''One way or another, the idea was to get your guys to nationals, and I think we got everybody in we could,'' Vol head man Bill Webb said. ''In terms of adding somebody, the surprise of the day was Sean Lambert getting third in the 100m. He ran a great competitive race when it counted. We didn't put an emphasis on placing and finish here as opposed to qualifying for nationals. On the whole, I feel good about it.''

The conditions in Columbus were beyond troublesome with the themometer topping out in the mid 50s and a 23 mph wind howling consistently from the north.

Kikaya led the Vol qualifying parade by running to runner-up honors with a 46.15 time, easily locking up a ticket for nationals. The strongest portion of Kikaya's race came between the 150m and 300m section when he laid down the throttle. Sensing his slot at nationals was secure with a top-five finish, Kikaya put it on cruise control.

''As soon as I knew I was in the top five I didn't feel the need to push it,'' Kikaya said. ''The most important thing is that I'm on my way to defend my [NCAA 400m] title. In two weeks I'll be ready. We'll be in California, so it will be a good environment. I feel confident.''

Perhaps the most gutsy effort of the meet belonged to Lambert in the 100m dash. After a hit-and-miss season, Lambert found his form when it counted with an overachieving third-place performance in 10.24w with a gale at his back. Lambert entered the race with the eighth-fastest time in the region.

''I got off to a slower start than usual,'' Lambert said. ''This time I felt I knew what I was doing. Since I didn't have a good meet at SECs, I was very focused. I knew it was do or die time. I knew I had to run to get in. I had a good conversation with my coach [Vince Anderson] which allowed me to execute better.''

Meanwhile, Sylvester got his expected qualifier in the 800m run with a third-place finish in a pedestrian 1:50.02. Sylvester uncharacteristically jumped out to lead most of the way to ensure he'd be in the qualifying top five. When he was comfortably in that qualifying mix, he cut off the jets to take third with a leg on the 4x400m relay in his near future.

Also, Tennessee's cobbled-together 4x100m relay gritted its way to a third-place, 40.37 finish and a lane at the NCAAs. Jabari Greer, Robert Boulware, Lambert and Dwayne Bell Jr. improved their stickwork from Friday's prelim effort. In what is thought to be the first time in school history, Tennessee broke out its all white body suits for both the 4x100m and 4x400m relays. The play must have worked as the quartet qualified without the services of Jonathan Wade and Gary Kikaya. The rest of the Vols in other events donned traditional Tennessee orange.

Meanwhile, Smith is the only field events competitor who locked up an NCAA spot at the regionals. Smith's fourth-place, 221-10 didn't quite match his SEC title-winning throw from two weeks ago, but was good enough for a ticket for nationals with his throw through the turbulent Ohio skies.

In the 110m hurdles, Greer qualified with the last spot in fifth. Greer's wind-aided 13.69w still stands as a good time, but didn't match up to his 13.54 stadium record in the prelims Friday. While his race wasn't as polished as he'd have liked, Greer owns a lane for the NCAA meet.

In the pole vault, which was moved indoors because of poor conditions, Rocky Danners took eighth in his first jump since he hobbled to second at the SECs two weeks ago. Danners cleared 16-11. His NCAA fate rests in the hands of the committee as he awaits a possible at-large berth with an earlier better clearance. Meanwhile, Chandler Rice tied for 19th in the massive vault field with a 15-7.25 clearance. After his lifetime-best leap at SECs two weeks ago, Jeff Trembley no-heighted to close his freshman campaign.

Tennessee's secondary 4x400m relay team took ninth in 3:14.09. Bell, Lambert, Sylvester and Stephen Harris passed the baton for the Vols.

After enjoying a career-best season, Rondell Mershon suffered a bout with the injury bug in the triple jump. His first jump of 50-1.75w placed 16th before Mershon had to foul his second jump and pass on his third jump because of a minor injury.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories