June 9, 2006
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Auburn's Josanne Lucas and the women's 4x100m relay team earned All-American honors Friday during the third day of the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, as the Tiger women positioned themselves for run at a national title. With nine of 21 events completed, Auburn stands in third place with 22 points, while Texas and Nebraska share the team lead with 26 points.
During Saturday's final day of competition, Auburn will have five women competing, including a pair of top-ranked competitors. Kerron Stewart, who is ranked No. 1 in the 100m, will compete in the finals of both the 100m and 200m, and will be joined by Tamara Thomas in the 200m. Markita James and Lucas will enter the 400m hurdles final ranked No. 1 and No. 4, respectively, and Michelle Vaughn will compete in the triple jump finals. If the group performs up to expectations, the Tigers will be in contention for their first-ever national championship in track and field.
"Our main thing that we told our kids this week was to take care of things each day and each event, and not to look forward," said head coach Ralph Spry. "By doing that, we've really put ourselves in a great position.
"Right now I'm real excited, but I'm not going to get too excited because there's a lot of track and field left to go. I feel good about the way things are going and I don't think that will change tomorrow, because these girls have been consistent all year long. The great thing about it is that we control our own destiny. If we go out and do our job, things will take care of themselves."
Lucas earned her fifth career All-American honor but her first in the 100m hurdles by finishing fifth in the finals of that event. Lucas, who entered the meet seeded sixth, posted a time of 13.02 seconds, just missing her personal best of :12.98.
"I wanted to run a faster time, but most importantly I put points on the board for the team," said Lucas. "Hopefully, it will add up at the end of the meet. I'm happy that I finished healthy, but I would have preferred to put up a faster time."
In the women's 4x100m relay, Auburn's team of Thomas, Jovanee Jarrett, James and Stewart finished fifth with a time of 43.46 seconds, just behind the Tigers' qualifying time from Wednesday of :43.35. The fifth-place finish garnered Auburn four more points while each member of the relay team earned All-American honors.
Meanwhile, Stewart easily qualified for the finals of the 200m, finishing second in her heat and third overall in the prelims, cruising to a personal-best time of 22.77 seconds, which is the second-best mark in Auburn history. As one of the final nine competitors in both the 100m and the 200m, Stewart will try to become the first woman in Auburn track history to earn All-American honors in both events.
"I'm just taking it one step at a time, round by round," said Stewart. "I'm feeling great. I'm just a competitor. I don't care what circumstances I have to compete in, I'm just going to go out there and do my best."
The surprise of the day came from Thomas, who finished fifth in her heat of the 200m and earned the ninth and last spot in Saturday's final. Thomas entered the meet ranked tied for 26th in the 200m with a season-best mark of 23.52 seconds, but improved to :23.39 in the first round and to :23.28 in the semifinals, ranking her fourth in Auburn history.
"The 200 really put us where we needed to be with Kerron running well and Tamara sneaking into the finals," said Spry. "Michelle Vaughn was also tremendous for us. She was not supposed to score in the triple jump on paper, but put up the sixth-best mark going into the finals."
Vaughn qualified for Saturday's finals in the triple jump by coming up big on her third and final attempt during Friday's prelims. After fouling on her first attempt and jumping 12.22m (40-1.25) on her second try, Vaughn ranked 27th and was about two feet shy of the mark needed to place in the top 12 and advance. But she posted a mark of 13.09m (42-11.5) on her last jump to move all the way up to sixth place and into the finals.
Auburn had just one member of the men's team competing on Friday, but Reuben McCoy did advance to the finals of the 400m hurdles, finishing third in his heat despite a slow start with a time of :49.66, which ranked sixth best overall in the semifinals.
"I feel alright," said McCoy. "This was just a bad race from start to finish for me. I have to get myself together, adjust my strategy and come out better for the finals. My goal for the final is just to go out there and contend for the No. 1 spot."
Auburn had a pair of participants in field event finals that were not expected to make it that far, although neither scored points. Katalin Mate placed 11th in the discus with a mark of 47.91m (157-2), while Michelle Williamson cleared 1.74m (5-8.5) and 1.77m (5-9.75) in the high jump, but was eliminated at 1.80m (5-10.75), finishing tied for 12th.
The NCAA Championships will conclude Saturday, and CBS will have live coverage from 2:30 p.m. until 5 p.m. (Central time), during which time all six of Auburn's athletes will be competing.