Track & Field Teams In First, Second At SEC Championships
May 12, 2012
BATON ROUGE --- Thanks in part to five individual champions, the Georgia women are leading and the Bulldog men are holding down second place at the Southeastern Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Baton Rouge on Saturday.
Freshman Allison Updike highlighted the start of the third day of the meet by winning the women's javelin title. Later in the day, her freshman teammate Morgann Leleux upset the collegiate record holder and two-time defending SEC pole vault champion Tina Sutej for her first crown with a school record mark.
Senior Matt Cleaver paced the Georgia men by running away with his second consecutive championship in the 3000-meter steeplechase with a school record of his own.
Georgia also had a combined 12 scorers who finished second through eighth place in a variety of events and four qualifiers for event finals on Sunday.
In the team scores, the Lady Bulldogs lead for the second day in a row with 68 points as LSU (47.50) and Arkansas (43.50) are in second and third. On the men's side, the Bulldogs are in second place with 38 points as Arkansas (70) is holding on to the top spot and LSU is at the third spot with 28 points.
"I feel good about one of the better days we have had at an SEC meet," said Bulldog head coach Wayne Norton. "We had some solid points from the first two days and then a lot of things went in our favor today. I believe we are right where we need to be and where we can be. Both sides, the men and the women, are doing what they can and that is very important in meets like this. In my 22 years here, when we're good, we are always scoring a bulk of the points early in the meet and then fighting to stay up there as long as we can. I think it benefits us that some of our stronger events are at the start of competition days because that kind of gets the ball rolling in the right direction."
Updike locked down the javelin title in her first trip to the SEC meet under overcast skies on Saturday.
The Nesquehoning, Pa., native reached 161 feet, 2 inches on her third throw to outdo LSU's Annie Simoneaux (157-11), who briefly took the lead after the second round of throws. The Lady Bulldogs have now captured six out of the last 11 championships in the event with the last one coming in 2007 as Krista Woodward won the fourth of her career.
"It's an honor to win an SEC title in my first year," said Updike. "I didn't do the best I've done or come out like I wanted to, but it's a win. I'm happy to be here and it really feels great finishing first."
Updike arrived at Georgia after having to sit out her senior season at Tamaqua High School after suffering a knee injury during the offseason. But in 2012, she has moved to fifth on Georgia's all-time top-10 list with a top mark of 167 feet and is 12th on this year's national performance list.
"I have been working hard since day one at Georgia; doing ball throws, lifting and working with Coach (Don) Babbitt on my runway approach," said Updike. "I still don't have things perfect but I feel like I have come a long way. Coach (Wayne) Norton always talks about the team spirit and I always want to help out the team and be a contributor."
"LSU kind of woke Allison up today with that (personal best) and she calmly reacted by answering with the winning mark," said Norton. "She took care of business and got the 10 points we were counting on from a competitor like she is."
Also of note, senior Colleen Felix tallied a third-place finish for Georgia in this year's competition with a season-best throw of 149-8. This was a one-spot improvement for Felix from last year as the Grenada native prepares for Sunday's triple jump competition. Felix won the 2011 and 2012 SEC indoor titles in the triple.
Jumping about 70 miles from her hometown of New Iberia, La., Leleux snapped Sutej's 10 straight victories in the pole vault to collect her first conference title. After earning runner-up honors to Sutej at the 2012 NCAA Indoor Championships, Leleux and Sutej both cleared 14-6.75 on their first try, which broke Leleux's former school record in the event.
But since both competitors failed to clear 14-9 and Sutej had three earlier misses, Leleux won the event and added 10 more points to Georgia's total. This snapped a streak of five years that Arkansas had won the outdoor pole vault title and was the first championship for the Lady Bulldogs in the event since Kierney Hiteshew (Jackson) won back-to-back titles (2005-06).
"It's awesome," said Leleux, who was third at the 2012 SEC indoors as Sutej also won that title. "At first I didn't even realize I had won but I am definitely excited now. I just hope the Georgia girls bring it (on Sunday) because we can win this thing or come close to winning this thing. Coach (Petros) Kyprianou has been an awesome coach for me and really helped me improve over this year."
"Every single meet, it seems like Morgann just comes into it and does well with a win or second-place finish," Norton said. "She's just a winner. I am really happy she was able to win her first SEC title in her home state of Louisiana with all of her friends and family watching."
In the final event of the day, Cleaver set the pace early and left the Bernie Moore Track Stadium with his second consecutive SEC title in the steeplechase. The Marietta native improved his school record time to 8:42.64 as he distanced himself from Kentucky's Luis Orta (8:45.77).
Cleaver is the first SEC outdoor champion for the Bulldogs in 2012 and the first to win back-to-back titles on the track for the team since Justin Gaymon finished first in the 400 hurdles in 2007 and 2008.
"Coach (Jeff) Pigg and I have been planning since the cross country season on how I would defend my steeplechase title so I came here with confidence," said Cleaver. "But with that being said, you can't be too confident because I knew I would be racing some of the country's top guys. I am just pleased I was able to contribute to the team and win another championship for Georgia."
"It's one thing to win and it's a whole other thing to defending an SEC title," said Norton. "Matt took control of this race from the start and proved why he is one of the dominant distance runners in the SEC right now."
Sophomore Charlie Sparks also recorded a personal-best time of 9:19.79 to finish 10th in the steeplechase.
In an unprecedented women's high jump competition, junior Saniel Atkinson matched her career best by reaching 6-0 on her opening attempt and finished second. Florida freshman Taylor Burke also had a clearance of six feet, but finished with two fewer misses that Atkinson, who now has three SEC runner-up finishes on her resume.
"This was the best or one of the best women's high jump competitions in SEC history with five people over six feet and Saniel was right there in the mix," said Norton. "I am proud of the way she competed today."
After finishing fifth at the 2011 SEC meet, sophomore Hilenn James lifted her top shot put throw a foot farther for runner-up honors on Saturday. James worked up to a throw of 51-10 on her fourth attempt to edge LSU's Tori Bliss (51-7).
Senior Eve Machovec made the best out of her final trip to the SEC Championships with a personal-best mark to take seventh in the shot put. Machovec, who had reached 47 feet in San Diego during her last time out, had a mark of 47-3 on her third throw to help the Lady Bulldogs score 10 points in the event.
In the women's steeplechase, junior Leslie Boozer finished with the second-best time of her life to take fourth. Boozer completed her laps in 10:25.70 as freshman Savannah Kirk also added a point for the Lady Bulldogs with an eighth-place finish thanks to a career-best time of 10:41.32, which ranks No. 6 in school history.
Another fourth-place finish came from sophomore Burke McCarty in the men's discus. McCarty worked up to a sixth throw of 174-11 after finishing 11th in 2011 as a freshman. In addition, sophomore Justin Welch, the runner-up in the hammer throw on Friday, took seventh in the discus with the longest mark of his season (170-4).
There were also four more Georgia team members who made it to event finals on Saturday giving the program a total of 10 qualifiers as the meet reaches its final day.
Freshman Carly Hamilton punched her ticket to the 1500 finals after grabbing the last at-large qualification in the prelims. Hamilton sped to a career-best time of 4:23.55, which is the sixth-best time in school history, to finish 10th overall with the fastest time for a freshman.
Hamilton will return to the track for the 1500 finals on Sunday at 4:20 p.m. on Sunday.
A day after wrapping up the decathlon, senior Cory Holman competed in the open 110 hurdles and qualified for the finals. The Huber Heights, Ohio, native qualified automatically after taking third in his heat with the sixth-best time (14.13) in the prelims. Holman also advanced to the 110 hurdle finals in 2010.
He will compete in the 110 hurdle finals at 4:50 p.m. on Sunday.
The 2010 and 2012 SEC indoor 400 champion, senior Torrin Lawrence, made the initial step of clinching his first outdoor title as well. Lawrence clocked the fastest 400 prelims time with a 45.84 and will take the track on Sunday at 5:10 p.m.
Freshman Justin Scott-Wesley came into the conference meet with a 100 time that was not even ranked in the top 25 in the SEC. But Scott-Wesley, who is a receiver for the Bulldog football team with a previous collegiate personal best of 10.72, was the runner-up in his prelim heat and eighth overall to qualify for the finals with a personal-best 10.39.
"Justin showed a lot of toughness," said Norton. "It's unheard of to have a personal best like he had today in the 100-meter dash. He was matched up against some really fast guys and he showed he deserves to be in that group."
Scott-Wesley will return to the track in the 100 finals on Sunday at 5:30 p.m.
Competition cranks up on Sunday at 2 p.m. with the men's javelin. UGA senior Brian Moore is the two-time defending champion in the event. Georgia has not swept the SEC javelin titles since 2005 (Trevor Snyder, Krista Woodward).
Live results and recaps from each day's action at the SEC Championships can be found at georgiadogs.com.
$ - school record; * - season-best mark; ^ - personal-best mark; & - three-time SEC champion