UF dominates relays at Tom Jones


UF sophomore pole vaulter Claire Spurling makes an attempt at her first height of the day during the 2009 Tom Jones Memorial Invitational at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Saturday.

Special photo by Brad McClenny
Published: Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 25, 2009 at 12:22 a.m.

It was all about the relays for Florida Saturday.

On a day in which UF’s track and field team added one NCAA automatic and nine provisional-qualifying marks at the second annual Tom Jones Memorial Invitational inside the O’Connell Center, it was the relays that had the greatest amount of support.

UF coach Mike Holloway has built his team around the most exciting couple of minutes in racing and just after his players sang the traditional “Oh, I Gotta Go,” military song, the Gators’ domination began.

“There’s a lot of pride in the relay at the University of Florida and that’s what you saw (Saturday),” Holloway said.

The Gator men’s team placed first, fourth and seventh in the relay. On the women’s side, the Gators placed fourth.

UF’s men’s “A” team set the tone for the Gators as freshman Christian Taylor got out of the blocks early and maintained a slight lead over South Carolina’s Quentin Moore. As he handed off the baton to senior Carlos Phillips, his lead slightly dwindled and for the entire second leg of the relay Phillips and USC’s O.B. Ngwigwa battled head-to-head for the lead.

Phillips eventually broke away right before handing off the baton to freshman William Wynne and the Gators never relinquished their lead, finishing with the top time of 3:09.38.

“It’s a tradition we have to win (the relay) and we always win it,” Phillips said.

The Gators completed the day with 26 athletes finishing their events with a top-5 position. UF also had three individual event winners.

One of those winners was junior Mariam Kevkhishvili, who again impressed in the shot put posting the lone automatic qualifying mark of 17.07m 56-00.00.

Junior Justin Taylor captured the men’s one-mile run with a time of 4:04.74 (a provisional-qualifying mark). Taylor found himself trailing for most of the race, but pulled it out with an extra burst of speed coming around the last turn to nudge out Harry Norton (unattached) for first place.

“One-by-one I just started picking people off,” Taylor said. “Coming around about 100 meters to go I saw the last guy and just closed it down on him.

“Once I passed him he was real fatigued at that point and it was pretty much over from there.”

Phillips garnered ringing cheers from throughout the O-Dome as he hit another gear during the last two legs of the men’s 800m, finishing with a provisional mark of 1:49.86. Phillips bested his personal-record time of 1:49.91 he set in 2007 at the Diet Pepsi Invitational in Gainesville.

UF’s women almost dominated the 3000m run as the Gators had four place in the top 6 of the race. Junior Charlotte Browning placed second with a time of 9:45.32.

Freshman Madison McNary finished the 200m dash in sixth with a team-low time of 24.68. The Gator women also placed four inside the top 10 of the pole vault with senior Natalie Moser posting a provisional qualifying mark of 3.95m 12-11.50.

Even with a solid day for UF, there were a few stumbles along the way. Holloway said after Saturday’s meet that while he was happy with the few provisional marks added, he did notice a few of his runners took a step back in their performances.

One major stumble for UF occurred when freshman Preston Wilson posted an impressive time of 49.31 in the 400m dash. During the race, Wilson had to maneuver between two opposing runners before breaking away for a commanding lead. Unfortunately for Wilson, he was disqualified for going outside the lane.

As the Gators prepare for the SEC/Big 12 Challenge in College Station, Texas, on Jan. 30-31, Holloway said he expects his team to work a little harder this week to clean up a few of the mistakes from the weekend and get mentally ready to compete in the conference and national championships in little more than a month.

“The key for us is that we still have to understand that we have five weeks until the conference (championships),” he said. “We just have to keep building and building and if we do that, we’re going to be fine. We can’t panic, and we have to understand that our goal is to be at our very best in five weeks at the conference meet and then two weeks later at the national meet. We’re well on our way to doing that.”

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