May 14, 2006
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -
The Auburn women's track and field team made a strong run at its first Southeastern Conference title, but came up just short, finishing second by one point at the 2006 SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championships hosted by the University of Arkansas. Auburn had a team-record five individual winners, including a world-best time in the 100m by Kerron Stewart, and a relay title, but finished with 135 points to place second behind Georgia's 136 points.
It was the best finish in Auburn women's team history in terms of place and points, matching its accomplishment from the SEC Indoor Championships. Auburn's previous best finish was third place in 1996, while its previous high point total was 102 in 1997 while finishing fourth.
After 11 events were scored, Auburn trailed Georgia by 65 points (111-46). But over the next seven events, which included three Auburn victories, the Tigers sliced the deficit to just nine points at 113-104. But a 1-2 finish in the triple jump by Georgia proved a cushion that Auburn could not overcome despite victories in each of the last two races (5,000m, 4x400m relay).
The Auburn men finished tied for ninth place with 31 points, including an individual champion in Reuben McCoy in the 400m hurdles.
"I've couldn't be more proud of the way this women's team responded this weekend," said head coach Ralph Spry. "They really showed a lot of character. Anybody associated with Auburn University would be extremely proud of the effort they have out here.
"We knew it was going to be a nail-biter. When you put your heart and soul into something and come up short, you really feel frustration. You can go through the whole competition and find so many places that we had a chance to get a point, but the bottom line is we missed by a point. But we matured, and grew a lot as a team this weekend. It hurts, but we've got bigger fish to fry with the NCAA Regionals and Championships, and with the group we have going to those meets they'll give us a great opportunity to do great down the stretch.
"We knew the men's team would not score a lot of points. I left 65 points at home with the people I decided to redshirt this season, and we had a couple of things go wrong this year, but I've got a plan for 2007 and 2008 that will put us right back where we want to be as a national power."
Many of Auburn's points came from a trio of women who worked overtime on Sunday: Kerron Stewart, Markita James and Josanne Lucas. Stewart and Lucas both had first- and second-place finishes in individual events, while James had a first- and fourth-place individual finish. Stewart and James also ran on a the winning 4x400m relay and the fourth-place 4x100m relay, while Lucas was on the 4x400m relay.
Stewart provided one of the meet's biggest highlights, winning the 100m in a blistering time of 11.03 seconds, surpassing the previous world best of :11.04 by Allyson Felix on April 22, and a mark of :11.06 by Marion Jones Saturday night. Stewart set an SEC meet record, beating the previous mark of :11.05 set by Georgia's Debbie Ferguson in 1999, and broke the Auburn record of :11.12 set by Fana Ashby in 2004. Stewart's previous best this season was a time of :11.27 April 22 at the Auburn Invitational.
"I've really worked hard for this and listened to my coach," said Stewart. "I am so proud right now. The last two days have been kind of down for me, but I rise to the occasion."
Just over an hour later, Stewart finished second in the 200m with a personal-best time of :22.85. Her mark is the second best in Auburn history and ranks tied for eighth in the world this year. She trailed only Shalonda Solomon of South Carolina, who posted the world's second-best time of :22.36.
Lucas, fresh of a 100m hurdle victory at the Penn Relays two weeks ago, continued her hot streak, winning the SEC title in the 100m hurdles with a personal-best but wind-aided time of 12.98 seconds. Lucas became just the second Auburn Tiger to win the women's 100m hurdles, joining Lacena Golding (1998).
"It is my first (SEC) championship and just unbelievable," said Lucas. "I just concentrated on running my race and doing what my coach told me. That was to attack each and every hurdle."
One hour after running the third leg on the 4x100m relay team, James finished fifth in the 400m with a time of 52.99 seconds. Just 65 minutes later, she won the 400m hurdles with a time of :56.44 as Auburn had three of the top four runners. Lucas was second in :57.66 and Jasmine Johnson finished fourth with a personal-best time of 59.96 seconds, improving her regional qualifying time. James became the first women's runner from Auburn to win the 400m hurdles.
"My coaches told me to pick it up after the seventh hurdle and that's what I did," said James following her hurdles victory. "I've been training for this for a while. You can't hold anything back and you have to run outside your comfort zone. This was a good race for me."
To conclude the night, Tamara Thomas, Stewart, Lucas and James, who form the No. 2-ranked 4x400m relay team in the nation, summoned the strength to win the final race in 3:31.35.
"We ran hard and pulled it off," said Stewart. "This is especially good for my three senior teammates. We all had to do the work and we all four got it done and put it together. We are a team."
Angela Homan, who won the 10,000m on Friday for her third SEC 10k title, was Auburn's other individual winner, claiming the 5,000m title for the first time with a winning time of 16:28.57. Homan won by a comfortable 10-second margin over Vanderbilt's Erika Scheble.
"It was so nice because the last two years I was second in this race," said Homan. "It is nice to go out my senior year and win both the 10,000 and 5,000. I knew the Vanderbilt girl was on my the whole time so I just wanted to run and get points for the team."
The men's team had an individual champion of its own, as Reuben McCoy won the 400m hurdles with a season-best time of :50.15. McCoy, running in lane six, had already been passed by lane five's Isa Phillips, the top seed out of of LSU, on the backstretch, but made his move around the final curve and outkicked Phillips and South Carolina's Jason Richardson to the finish line. Also for Auburn, Tavaris Washington finished fifth with a time of :51.89.
"I was determined," said McCoy. "It was a battle to the finish line. I knew he (Phillips) was on my heels. I knew I had to pick it up at the end and stay focused and run my race."
In the women's triple jump, Auburn took third and fourth place. Michelle Vaughn was the third-place finisher, posting a personal-best mark of 13.01m (42-8.25) which ranks third in Auburn outdoor history. Jovanne Jarrett, who was runner-up in Saturday's long jump, finished fourth with a personal-best mark of her own at 12.94m (42-5.5), which ranks fourth in school history.
In the women's javelin, Katalin Mate finished third with a mark of 45.69m (149-11). Mate, who entered the competition seeded fourth, was in fourth place entering her last throw, but pulled out her best effort of the day on her last try to move up to third. Her mark was just one inch short of her season best.
Mate also finished sixth in the shot put with a new personal-best mark of 14.92m (48-11.5). Mate, who finished fourth in yesterday's discus competition improved on her regional qualifying mark by .21 meters (8.25 inches). Ronda Gullatte just missed scoring in the shot put but did meet the regional qualifying standard, placing ninth with a throw of 14.48m (47-6.25).
The women's 4x100m relay team of Thomas, Jarrett, James and Stewart finished fourth with a time of 44.59 seconds, off its season best of :43.74.
Jordan Davis had a personal best in the 1500m for the men's team, finishing fourth with a regional qualifying time of 3:46.77. Davis entered the final with the 11th fastest time in Saturday's prelims.
Auburn scored seven points in the men's 110m hurdles, as Shamar Sands finished fifth with a season-best time of 13.87 seconds, improving his regional qualifying mark, while Ty Akins was right behind, placing sixth in :13.89.
The men's 4x100m relay team of Jamaal Barnes, Reuben McCoy, Tavaris Washington and Ty Akins ran a time of :41.23 to finish seventh.
Andrew Heath just missed scoring for Auburn, placing ninth in the 5,000m with a season-best time of 14:19.18. Drew Lovette tied for ninth in the pole vault, clearing 4.85m.
In terms of individual point scorers, Auburn had six of the top 10 women in the meet. Kerron Stewart was responsible for 21.75 points for Auburn, which ranked third, while Josanne Lucas (20.5) was fourth, Angela Homan (20) fifth, Markita James (17.75) seventh, Jovanee Jarrett (14.25) eighth and Katalin Mate (14) tied for ninth.
Following Georgia and Auburn in the women's standings was South Carolina with 86.5 points. LSU was fourth with 81, Tennessee fifth with 78, Alabama sixth with 72.5, Arkansas seventh with 68, Kentucky eighth with 45, Florida ninth with 38, Vanderbilt 10th with 28, Mississippi State 11th with 27 and Ole Miss 12th with 24.
Arkansas won the men's team title with 137.5 points while Tennessee was second with 126.5. Florida was third (110 points), followed by LSU (109), South Carolina (77), Alabama (67.5), Kentucky (58), Georgia (52.5), Auburn and Ole Miss (31) and Mississippi State (19).
After a weekend off, the Auburn men's and women's teams will compete at the NCAA Mideast Regional Championships May 26-27 in Knoxville, Tenn.