Seventh-place Tennessee didn't bring home the NCAA Mideast Regional team trophy on a shivering, windswept Saturday night at Ohio State, but that was never part of the Volunteer blueprint anyway.
According to the Tennessee coaching staff's strategy, the main purpose of the meet was not to worry about nabbing the team trophy, but to fill as many plane seats for the NCAA Championships as possible.
For the most part, Tennessee head coach Bill Webb and the Volunteer contingent could claim mission accomplished as the inaugural NCAA Mideast Regional slipped into the history books on a cold and wickedly windy night at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
Tennessee directly qualified six athletes for the upcoming NCAA Championships in Sacramento, Calif., with top-five regional finishes Saturday.
In the controversial new regional format, top five qualifiers in the four regionals around the country qualify for the NCAAs and around six more in each event are chosen by a selection committee.
Locking up NCAA slots were Gary Kikaya (400m), Sean Lambert (100m), Marc Sylvester (800m), javelin thrower Leigh Smith, 110m hurdler Jabari Greer and the 4x100 relayers.
The Vols likely added more national qualifiers after the NCAA committee made its final at-large bids late Monday night, but the group's choices were unavailable as of press time.
Based on solid seasons, though, Karl Jennings (110m hurdles) and Rocky Danners (pole vault) were expected to be among the at-large selections.
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 to California as well.
"One way or another the idea was to get your guys to nationals, and I think we got everybody in we could," Webb said. "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."
More than 1,100 men's Mideast Region track and field competitors from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Michigan descended upon Columbus.
Conditions were beyond troublesome with the thermometer topping out in the mid 50s and a 23 mph wind howling consistently from the north.
Kikaya led the Vol qualifying by running to runner-up honors with a 46.15 time, easily locking up a ticket for nationals. 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."
After a hit and miss season, Lambert found his form when it counted with an overachieving third-place performance in the 100m (10.24). Lambert entered the race with the eighth-fastest time in the region.
"Since I didn't have a good meet at SECs, I was very focused," he said. "I knew it was do or die time. I knew I had to run to get in."
Meanwhile, Sylvester got his expected qualifier in the 800m run with a third-place finish and Tennessee's cobbled-together 4x100m relay gritted its way to a third-place, 40.37 finish and a lane at the NCAAs.
Solid weekend nets plenty of Lady Vol qualifiers
University of Tennessee sophomore Dee Dee Trotter claimed the 400-meter dash title and classmate Nicole Cook finished third in the 800-meter run Saturday evening at the NCAA Mideast Regional meet at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. For their efforts, the Lady Vol standouts earned berths in the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Sacramento, Calif., June 11-14.
Later in the evening, Trotter and Cook also played key roles as the UT 4x400m relay unit placed second in 3:37.80 to also earn an automatic bid to the national meet. That finish brought UT's total to 36 points and gave coach J.J. Clark's squad a final finish of seventh and a roster of six NCAA qualifiers.
Cook, Trotter, Gorham and Ward join seniors Sharon Dickie and Christie Elwin, who qualified for the national meet Friday night in the 5000 meters and pole vault, respectively.
Junior Janine Tessarzik just missed the finals of the discus throw, placing 10th with a throw of 151-2 on Saturday.
"It was a good weekend," Clark said. "We qualified about everyone we thought would qualify, and the competitive spirit of the team was outstanding. Even though the conditions weren't very favorable, we stepped up and competed at a high level. It's time to go back home, regroup, and reload for the national championship meet."