The final day of the 38th Sea Ray Relays lived up to its billing on a cool spring Saturday with several efforts ranking among the U.S. and world elite gracing Tennessee's Tom Black Track.
Under leaden skies and misted by an occasional sprinkle, the Volunteers also reached their Sea Ray Relays apex Saturday with three wins and a sprinkling of nationally competitive marks for which the program is known. Tennessee quartets captured two relay titles, tying for the Sea Ray Relays lead with Wisconsin. While the newcomers provided the Vol highlights Friday, Tennessee's veterans wrote the script to close the spring classic Saturday.
In the invitational 100m dash, senior Sean Lambert turned back challenges from NCAA sprint champion Mardy Scales of MTSU and Allen Johnson, seven-time world champion and 1996 Olympic gold medal winner in the hurdles, to win the 100m dash. Behind the entire race, the tenacious team co-captain closed the gap in the final strides to break the tape first in 10.38, a regional qualifier but not a season best. In an impressive feat, Tennessee has won the Sea Ray Relays 100m dash the last four years with different sprinters--Leonard Scott (2001), Justin Gatlin (2002), Jonathan Wade (2003) and Lambert (2004). Lambert also finished fifth in his first 200m dash of the outdoor season. He ran a 21.05 regional qualifier in the star-studded field.
"I really wanted to win on our home track," Lambert said. "I knew I might be a little hesitant [at the start] because the false start from last week was on my mind. I knew to be patient regardless and I could catch them in the end. Coach Anderson and I talked about this."
Lambert also played a huge role in another Tennessee victory in the 4x100m relay. Behind strong running from Blake Jones, Jonathan Wade, Lambert and Jak Taylor, Tennessee continued its dominance in the 4x100m relay with a 39.60 winner. The time stands as a regional qualifier and an update to the previous season best. Despite having to replace two world-class legs (Gary Kikaya and Jabari Greer) from the Vols' No. 2 all-time effort last year, Tennessee's 39.60 time vaults to second-fastest in the SEC, seventh-fastest in the NCAA and tied for 11th-fastest in the world this year. Tennessee is currently tied with the Australian 4x100m relay team and is faster to date than the teams of the Netherlands Antilles, Canada, South Africa and India.
Jones got the Volunteers out of the hole around the Thornton Center curve. Wade put together a strong leg to keep Tennessee in contention. Lambert ran the curve masterfully on the third leg, jetting out to the lead before the final handoff. Taylor, a 400m man by trade, earned his keep on the anchor leg by extending the lead and steaming hard down the straightaway.
Tennessee's middle-distance men extended an even more impressive streak by winning their fourth-consecutive 4x800m relay title at Sea Rays. The Vols' winning time of 7:25.43 stands as the fastest in that streak. Marc Sylvester, Kenny Schappert, Frank Francois and Paul Cross, all veterans save the rookie Cross, passed the baton for Tennessee. Sylvester continued rounding into shape and passed off the baton to Schappert tied for second. Schappert held his own and passed the baton to Francois in third. The Vols didn't stay third for long thanks to Francois, a junior from Burke, Va. Francois roared to the lead to set up Cross on the anchor leg. Cross fended off a challenge by Rice to take the title.
Senior Leigh Smith, the graybeard of the throwers, enjoyed a career day in the javelin and finished with the third-best throw by an American this year. Smith broke his personal record three times in an hour. Smith finished second with a 249-5 mark, a huge 13-foot improvement on his previous lifetime best. Smith stands as the third-best javelin thrower on UT's all-time list. American record holder Tom Pukstys won the meet with a 254-5 launching, to lead all Americans in 2004.
"The main difference has been my run," Smith said. "My run has been my bane for my entire career as far as getting consistent marks. I had a really smooth approach. It just came together today. It's always fun to do it in front of the home crowd and all my teammates."
Tennessee's Brett Frykberg continued his promising start with a 7-0.5 leap in the invitational high jump to tie for second. His 7-0.5 effort ties for the SEC lead and stands tied for 11th in the NCAA. A redshirt junior, Frykberg has cleared the seven-foot barrier his last three meets.
Back to the relays, the Volunteers clocked a third-place, season-best time of 9:53.54 in the distance medley relay. Dusty Miller finished his opening leg fourth before handing off to Jacob Dennis. After picking up a spot, Dennis handed off to Sylvester in third. Sylvester continued the trend by getting the stick to anchor Rob Cloutier in second place. He brought the relay home in third.
Tennessee ran to a season-best 3:08.17 to earn fourth in the 4x400m relay. The time stands as a regional qualifier and chopped eight seconds off the previous season best. Newcomers Dennis, Aries Merritt, Cross and Taylor, an exception to the upperclass success Saturday, passed the baton for the Vols. Taylor, who performed admirably on the 4x100m relay anchor leg, also anchored the 4x400m relay to a squad-best 45.3 split.
"It has a lot to do with my family coming down from Ohio," Taylor said. "They went to the grocery store and fixed me a good breakfast. Coach Anderson told me I was ready for a 45 [second 400m dash], and I'm getting closer and closer. I like the pressure of running anchor. I like to see my teammates going all out before I do."
Two Volunteers notched PRs in the open hammer throw to start the morning. Knoxville Central grad Jim Sexton's 184-4 placed ninth and gave him yet another lifetime best. Josh Whisman placed 10th with a 180-3 measurement. Steve London continued his improvement with a 155-10 PR throw to take 19th.
In the 5,000m run, former Vol Anthony Famiglietti, now running for adidas, took his second victory of the meet with a 14:05.69 time. Tennessee's Matthew Lapp and Ed Davis followed in 16th (15:05.30) and 17th (15:06.24), respectively.
The Vols plan to train through next weekend before taking their act to an even bigger stage, the Penn Relays in Philadelphia, Pa., April 22-24. Many of Tennessee's field eventers get their next opportunity to compete at the Knoxville Invitational back on the home track April 25.