The University of Tennessee track teams began the NCAA outdoor championships in Sacramento, Calif., on a strong note Wednesday. The Vols and Lady Vols combined for nine perfomances that advanced to the semifinals or the finals in their respective events during the first day of competition.
“Chris Helwick (decathlon) is a good second-day guy,” Vol coach Bill Webb said. “The battle between second through eighth place is wide open. Everybody has up-and-down events during the decathlon at NCAAs with the heat playing a factor. It was about 90 degrees here today.
“Aries (Merritt, 110 hurdles) looked really good today, and so did Rubin (Williams, 200). The 4x100 relay team finished high and I’m happy about that.”
Helwick currently sits in eighth place after the first day of the decathlon. He was in 13th after the first two events, but steadily moved up the scoreboard and is only 90 points behind third place with five events remaining Thursday.
Aries Merritt and Drew Brunson competed twice in the 110 hurdles after both Tennessee athletes advanced out of the first round and into the semifinals.
The Vols’ 4x100 relay team, which had the 10th-fastest time entering the semifinals, advanced to the finals with a season-best time of 39.20. Tennessee’s quartet of Matthieu Pritchett, Jonathan Wade, Merritt and Williams qualified fifth for the final, which will be contested Friday evening.
Seniors Jim Sexton and Zach Sabatino saw their seasons come to an end Wednesday after competing in the hammer throw and steeplechase, respectively. Sexton, a co-captain from Knoxville, placed 20th in the qualifying round of the event with his throw of 201-4 and did not advance to the finals. Sabatino covered the 3,000 meters of his event in 8:52.26 and finished 16th. Yarrick Kincaid finished 19th in the 800 and did not advance to the semifinals.
The University of Tennessee women were very business-like on day one. That approach proved highly successful as the Lady Vols advanced entries to the next round in four different events.
The Lady Vols earned qualification to the next round in the 100, 400 and 800 meters and the 4x100m relay, in which they uncorked a season-best time.
“It was a good first day, because it allowed us to get the nerves out and get the nervous systems firing,” Lady Vol coach J.J. Clark said. “It’s a long week still, but it’s a good start. We have to just keep going and put ourselves into position to score in the finals.”
Tennessee began the day by advancing its 4x100 unit to Friday’s final. The quartet of Courtney Champion, Cleo Tyson, LaTonya Loche and Patricia Hall churned out a 2006-best readout of 43.70 seconds that was good for second in heat three and sixth fastest of the qualifiers.
“I think they did a good job in the first round, but there is room to keep improving in that area,” Clark said. “We had a good time, which was the third best ever by a UT team.”
Tyson came back a little over two hours later and automatically advanced to the semifinal round of the 200-meter dash. Her 23.19 readout placed her second in heat two and ranked as the 10th-best of the first round.
Hall followed suit by earning a lane in the semifinals of the 400-meter dash. The NCAA Mideast Regional and SEC champion captured heat three of the first round in 52.22 and wound up with the fourth best effort of the day.
In the first round of the 800 meters, junior Leslie Treherne also extended her action. The product of Chesapeake, Va., automatically qualified for the semifinal round in heat one by logging a secondplace readout of two minutes, 6.29 seconds.
Redshirt freshman Celriece Law was unable to move along to the next round in the 100-meter hurdles. The campaign also came to a halt for sophomore discus thrower Shanna Dickenson. Competing in the qualifying round, she managed a top heave of 158 feet, four inches to place 20th overall.