Three Vols win SEC titles

Vol football player Jabari Greer won the 55-meter hurdles, Gary Kikaya won the 400 meters and Stephen Harris claimed the pentathlon over the weekend in the SEC Indoor Track & Field Championships at the O'Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla.

As a team, however, Tennessee finished in fourth place with 69 points -- the Vols' lowest SEC Indoor team finish since 2000.

Arkansas took the team title with 120 points. Host Florida was runner-up with 90.5 points. South Carolina finished third with 78.5 points.

''Even though the score doesn't indicate our effort, we had three SEC champions and a number of lifetime bests'' head coach Bill Webb said. ''I'm happy and proud of our guys. We were at a disadvantage with Rocky (Danners) and Marc (Sylvester) injured. We'll be a better team outdoors. We look forward to the SEC Outdoor Championships to get back in a position to defend our title in Knoxville.''

Greer's championship 55m hurdles time of 7.13 stands as the fourth-fastest time in school history behind such standouts as Willie Gault, Richmond Flowers and Bill High. However, if you convert Greer's 55m hurdles time to the 60m hurdles standard used at the NCAA Indoors, the 7.13 becomes 7.64, faster than any Volunteer has ever run the event, including the legendary Gault (7.67). Greer becomes the first Vol to win the hurdles at SEC Indoors since Dawane Wallace won in 1997.

''It's just a blessing,'' Greer said. ''I feel like I was given a gift to run track and play football. I think going out there and competing with the best makes me a better person all around. I've been coached by the best man in the nation in Vince Anderson. Heâs given me inspiration and given me the courage to put everything else aside and run my race.''

Greer's weekend was a wild one. He was running late for the team bus to the airport in Knoxville, then got inadvertently left at the Gainesville airport Friday as the team hurriedly piled into vans and made its way to the track to cheer on the pentathletes. After he rejoined his teammates, the Jackson native realized he'd also left his spikes in Knoxville. Blocking all of that out when the Vols needed a breakthrough performance, Greer came into meet ranked sixth in the SEC and leaves as champion.

Kikaya entered the meet as the favorite in the 400m dash. He likewise leaves Gainesville as the favorite after capturing the 400m dash title in 46.36. Kikaya held off a late charge by South Carolina's Jonathan Fortenberry to nip the Gamecock by two-hundredths of a second. Kikaya now has an SEC Indoor 400m trophy to share the shelf with his 400m SEC Outdoor title last year. Kikaya's 11.5 points were the second-most on the squad. Kikaya became the first Vol in 31 years to win the SEC Indoor 400m dash since Trevor James in 1972.

''It was a very competitive race,'' Kikaya said. ''I knew I could do it. I just ran my own race and didnât worry about what anyone else was doing. It makes me confident going into nationals because most of my competition is in the SEC.''

Sunday's final event, the 4x400m relay, saw the Vols paste together a hodge-podge of athletes and finish third with a time of 3:09.93, their season best and a provisional qualifier. The Vols opened up with Dwayne Bell Jr., who volunteered for duty after a nasty spill in the 400m dash Saturday. The Vols stood fourth when Bell handed the baton to Kikaya. Despite running a hard 400m final earlier in the day, Kikaya pulled the Vols to second place with a team-leading 45.3 split to prove he still had some left in the tank. Sean Lambert, a 60m and 200m specialist, offered to run the third leg of the 4x400m relay after a full day pulling double duty earlier in the sprints. When Harris took the baton to begin the anchor leg the Vols stood fourth. However, he nipped Alabama at the tape to secure third.

Meanwhile, Harris once again proved his worth as an ironman. For the third day in a row, Harris went to the well for the Vols. He finished as Tennessee's leading scorer with 14.5 points -- 10 from the pentathlon, three from a sixth-place finish in the high jump and 1.5 for his role in anchoring the Vols' third-place 4x400m relay. In true Volunteer form, Harris entered the first event of the meet in the pentathlon, the last event of the meet in the 4x400m relay and the long jump and high jump in between.

In one of his finest meets as a Vol, Sean Lambert chipped in nine and a half points to the Vol cause with his fifth-place finishes in the 55m and 200m dashes and the second leg on the third-place 4x400m relay. Lambert competed hard for his fifth-place, season-best time of 21.53, despite entering the meet not even ranked in the SECâs top 10. The junior also clocked in at a provisional 6.26 for his fifth-place finish in the 55m dash.

''I couldnât be prouder of our three SEC champions,'' Webb said. ''Jabari's (Greer) time converted to the 60m hurdles is faster than even Willie Gault. Stephen (Harris) showed why he was elected team captain as he was our high scorer. Gary (Kikaya) ran a monster 45.3 split on his leg of the 4x400m relay after winning the 400m. I can't believe we ran that fast with a bandaged-together unit.''


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