UF men's track captures first NCAA Outdoor title

Florida's Tony McQuay reacts ahead of Southern Cal's Bryshon Nellum, left, as he anchors his team to victory in the men's 1,600-meter relay at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championship, Saturday, June 9, 2012, at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Published: Saturday, June 9, 2012 at 4:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, June 9, 2012 at 4:04 p.m.

DES MOINES, Iowa — The Florida men’s track team ended years of frustration on Saturday, finally taking home the Gators’ first NCAA outdoor national championship after four second-place finishes since 2004.

The men’s team title came down to the final race, the 1,600 relay, between Florida, LSU and Texas A&M. Anchor Tony McQuay gave the Gators the lead on the backstretch and the win in 3 minutes, 0.02 seconds.

Florida finished with 50 points, followed by the Tigers (48) and Texas A&M (40). This is the first NCAA outdoor title in Florida athletics history and the third national championship for the Gators this year (men’s indoor track & field & women’s tennis)

“Unbelievable. It’s an absolute blessing. I can’t tell you how proud I am of this group of young men. We had a lot of adversity, not just this week, but throughout the year,” Florida coach Mike Holloway said.

In three thrilling minutes, Florida snapped three years of outdoor frustration.

The Gators, who’d won the last three indoor titles without matching it in outdoors, started the bell lap for the 1,600 in second behind USC and with LSU right behind them. If that would have held the Gators and Tigers would have split the national title, but McQuay put on a burst to move past USC’s Bryshon Nellum while Tigers anchor Riker Hylton stayed in third.

“We knew what the team standings were and we came together like a family, as a team. I trusted my first, second and third to get us here. We have a young team and to have them step up really means a lot to the program,” McQuay said.

What made Florida’s title run all the more remarkable was that the Gators did it without star sprinter Jeff Demps, who skipped the NCAA meet to rest an injured hamstring.

“You think about things, the people that weren’t here, the people that didn’t want to give you a chance but our guys never bought into it. I’m extremely proud of them,” Holloway said.

The Florida coach was pleased with his team’s ability to overcome obstacles en route to a national title.

“We lost our best sprinter (Demps), we lost our best decathlete (Gray Horn) and our 4x100 didn’t qualify,” Holloway said. “A lot of people would have given up hope, but our group of guys didn’t. I sat them down after regionals and I said ‘We are still the best team in the country, as long as you believe it,’ and our guys believed it.”

Florida sophomore Eddie Lovett gave the Gators bonus points in the men’s 110-meter hurdles, finishing fifth in 13.82 and scoring four points for the Gators in his first NCAA outdoor final.

“That was huge for Eddie to come in, entered possibly one of the best high-hurdle fields in history and to be able to man up and get fifth place in that race,” Holloway said. “That was huge for us. That got us within striking distance and gave us a chance to win this championship.”

Florida State’s Maurice Mitchell gave the Seminoles their sixth national champion in the men’s 200 in seven years and a brief lead on Saturday. But that was Florida State’s last shot, and the Seminoles finished fourth with 38 points.

On the women’s side, Florida finished in a tie for 12th, scoring 18 points throughout the week, including 10 points on the final day of competition.

The LSU women are back on top after watching Texas A&M win the national title in each of the last three years.

The Southeastern Conference sweep snapped a three-year title run by the women and men of Texas A&M — and the Aggies join the league next fall.

The LSU and Oregon women entered Saturday tied at 40, but the Tigers jumped out to a big lead after Kimberlyn Duncan won the 200 meters.

LSU hung on from there, leaving Oregon as the runners-up for the fourth year in a row.

“It’s a tremendous team effort from everybody that allowed us to score a bundle of points. It took a lot of points to win this year, and I have to commend the University of Oregon. What a great job of competing they did, trying to win here too,” LSU coach Dennis Shaver said.

The LSU women opened up a five-point edge after the opening event, as the Tigers won the 400 relay in 42.75 behind a strong anchor leg by Duncan. That win followed a victory by the LSU men in the 400 relay, giving the Tigers the first 400 relay sweep since they also did it in 2003.

“The first thing I had in mind was just get out, get out, get out, try to break the stagger and give the stick to Semoy (Hackett) first. We’re trying to win nationals, so one thing we had on our mind was to win, whatever it took,” LSU’s Takeia Pinckney said.

The Ducks had a chance to make up serious ground in the 1,500, but Jordan Hasay finished third by a hundredth of a second and Becca Friday placed ninth. Hasay briefly gave Oregon a 51-50 lead that could have been more. Washington’s Katie Flood, who grew up in Des Moines, won to raucous cheers in 4:13.79.

LSU got the lead right back behind Duncan, who defended her title in the 200 in 22.86. Hackett finished fifth, giving the Tigers 14 points as they pulled away from the Ducks and everyone else.

Oregon had one last shot at the Tigers in the 5,000, but a pair of Ducks combined for just one point to clinch the title for LSU. Texas A&M finished third, but 38 points behind their future league rivals.

Oregon did get the best of the Tigers in the 1,600 relay, winning in a meet record 3:24.54.

The men’s 1,500 didn’t have any impact on the team race, but it might have been the best race of the meet.

Indiana’s Andrew Bayer closed on BYU’s Miles Batty down the backstretch, but Batty appeared to hold the slightest of leads as both approached the finish line. Bayer and Batty leaned hard and tumbled harder, and Bayer leapt up and turned to the scoreboard to learn that his 3:43.82 had bested the still-fallen Batty by 1/100th of a second.

“I was set up with 200 meters to go and I was like ‘I’m not going to let this go, I’m going to fight to the end,’” Bayer said.

Illinois star Andrew Riley became the first to sweep the men’s 100 and 110 hurdles, winning the 110 hurdles on Saturday in 13.53.

Kansas triple jump star Andrea Geubelle had a heartbreaking afternoon. She appeared to have pulled off the third-longest all conditions jump in collegiate history at 46 feet, 11 inches, but the jump was ruled a foul after a protest.

Southern Mississippi’s Ganna Demydova was later declared the winner at 46-7 . But Geubelle will have a chance at redemption in a few weeks at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

UF Communications contributed to this report.

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