LEXINGTON, Ky. --- Georgia senior Aaron Evans captured the first 800-meter run title of his career to help give the Bulldog men a third-place finish at the Southeastern Conference Indoor Championships on Sunday afternoon in Lexington, Ky.
Evans was one of three SEC individual champions for Georgia as the Bulldog men, who had two of the champions, scored the most points in school history at this meet (85.5 points) to take third. This is the best finish for Georgia since 1994.
Improving their 2011 finish by one spot, the Lady Bulldogs finished fifth place with 52 points thanks in part to senior Colleen Felix's second straight conference indoor victory in the triple jump.
Florida (132) cruised to the team title on the women's side while Arkansas (151) edged the Gators (137) to finish first and second in the men's competition.
"We really had a very good weekend where both teams exceeded their point projections," said head coach Wayne Norton, whose teams had their best combined finish since 2007. "I told the teams after the meet that this has to be one of our best SEC meets ever when it looked like we would be sagging a little bit behind going into the weekend. This has to be one of the most satisfying SEC meets for us in the last four or five years.
"The competition is always phenomenal at this meet and I think that shows how tremendous our three champions really are. We will be looking for them to translate those same performances to the NCAA meet. Individually, (Waymon) Storey, the 4x400 team, the distance medley crew, Kristie Krueger, Torrin Lawrence, all of these people, and a lot more, showed what it takes to have a meet like this.
"It's been 18 years since the men have been this high at the SEC indoor meet and I think with this point total, we are going to be strong outdoors. With our indoor score, we have the potential to score between 130 and 150 points outdoor which can really do some damage in the team race.
"For the women, the only time we have been better than we are right now is when we really have some elite people competing for us. We're not quite where we were in the 2005 to 2007 span, but we are the best we have been in a while. I am confident about where this team is right now and where we can go when everyone is healthy."
Evans, a Devonshire, Bermuda, native, stayed in the middle of the pack until bolting into the lead in the final meters of the race to clock a 1:48.22. This marks the first indoor 800 title for the Bulldogs since Shaun Benefield captured the 1996 crown with a time of 1:49.06.
Fellow Bermuda native and former Bulldog Steve Burgess also won an 880-yard run title in 1984.
Evans won his first 800 title after taking second at the 2011 SEC indoor meet in a photo finish and earning runner-up honors at the 2010 SEC Outdoor Championships with a school record time of 1:47.00.
"Finally, after three years I won after being so close," said Evans. "This is a testament to all of our hard work. All the early mornings, the runs in the rain and long hours, it paid off. I tried to stay behind the Florida guy since I knew he would take it out fast and I was relying on my kick at the end. I just told myself to lean forward and stay on my toes. I knew I had it in me."
Following a foul to open the competition, senior Colleen Felix soared a season-best 42 feet, 8 ¼ inches on her second attempt to clinch the women's triple jump victory. This was Georgia's first SEC title of this year's meet and is the eighth-best mark in the nation this season.
Felix reached her winning mark on her second attempt before passing on her third opportunity. While she did not improve in her series, Florida freshman Ciarra Brewer reached 42-7.50 on her fifth attempt to approach Felix. But Brewer could not catch Felix in her final jump as Felix clinched her second consecutive win in the event.
"It feels good to win again, although I know I could have done better," said Felix, who now owns two of the three conference titles in the indoor event for the Georgia women and becomes the first Lady Bulldog to have back-to-back indoor crowns since Jenny Dahlgren (weight throw, 2006-07). "I did better than in my other competition this season and I'm glad to win. But I'm not proud of my mark. I felt good going into today but I wasn't sure what the others in the field would bring. I still have a lot of work to go before nationals."
Senior Latroya Darrell also finished fourth in the triple jump with a mark of 41-8.50. Competing in what could be her final meet as a Lady Bulldog, Darrell worked up to an effort of 41-8.25 on her third try to score for the third consecutive year in the event.
Also in the event, junior Maria Augutis, who claimed the 2011 SEC outdoor title in Athens, was seventh after reaching a season-best 40-8.25. Augutis suffered three fouls in the competition and has scored in five straight conference meets in the event.
Senior Torrin Lawrence was the third SEC champion for Georgia on the weekend. He won his first league 400 title since 2010. The Jacksonville, Fla., native shot to a 46.15 finish in the second of two groups in the finals to capture his third SEC title overall and second in the 400. Lawrence also won the 2009 SEC indoor 200 crown in Lexington during his freshman season.
After clocking the nation's fastest time this year (46.01) to be the top qualifier during the prelims, Lawrence went head-to-head with Florida junior Tony McQuay down the final straightaway in the finals. Although McQuay passed Lawrence and crossed the finish line first, McQuay was disqualified for cutting Lawrence off during the second to last turn of the race.
The Lady Bulldogs also had a runner-up finish in the high jump as junior Saniel Atkinson had a career day. With a second-place finish at the 2010 SEC outdoor meet already on her resume, cleared four of her first five heights before ending up at an NCAA automatic qualifying height of 6-0.75.
This shoots Atkinson up to fourth on the school's all-time top-10 list and is the best jump for the Georgia women since Levern Spencer set the school record at 6-2.75 in 2008.
"I am pleased with my mental toughness today," said Atkinson, who had to keep her concentration after her competition was halted to complete the 60 hurdle finals. "I was determined to not leave this place without an SEC medal. The year is shaping up like the plan I had for it. I wanted an automatic qualifying mark and now I feel like I am sitting pretty in the national rankings. I still have a lot of work to go before nationals."
Lawrence returned with the Bulldog 4x400 relay team of senior Phillip Adams, freshman Chris Foster and sophomore Waymon Storey to finish second with a school record time. After falling behind all three teams in their heat after the opening leg, Georgia roared back to briefly take the lead in Lawrence's anchor leg before finishing second to LSU with the fastest time in school history (3:06.97).
With Lawrence running a 45.9 split, the Bulldogs passed by the former No. 1 time of 3:07.45 set at the 2009 SEC meet, which also involved Lawrence and Adams. This year's time for UGA is the fourth fastest in the nation this year.
Georgia's other relay also tallied six points with a third-place finish. Freshman Drew Branch, junior Daniel Grass, junior Danny Neff and junior Fraser Reade combined to record a 9:57.51 in the distance medley relay. The Bulldog quartet moved into the No. 6 spot on Georgia's all-time top-10 list with Neff being a part of five of the finishes on the list.
This marked the first career indoor meet for Reade, who was the anchor leg for Georgia.
Making her return to the track after taking a year off to recover from a leg injury, junior Kristie Krueger ran the fastest 5000 of her career to take fourth. Krueger finished in 16:27.32, which moves her to fifth in the Lady Bulldog record books.
Another fourth-place finish came from sophomore Caleb Whitener in the shot put. Whitener launched his best attempt 58-10.25 after managing a fifth-place finish in the weight throw with a personal-best throw a day before.
Storey warmed up for the 4x400 relay by taking fourth in the 200 finals. Coming into the meet with the same season-best time (21.12) as Lawrence, Storey clocked a 21.17 for fourth place before punching his ticket to nationals with his 4x400 partners.
A walk-on for the Bulldogs, senior Brett Richardson had the best 5000 time for Georgia in the last five years to finish fourth. Richardson finished in a career-best time of 14:19.75 as he moved into the No. 3 spot on the Bulldogs' all-time top-10 list.
Another pair of Richardson's teammates also broke into the scoring ranks in the 5000. Sophomore Brandon Lord had the seventh-best time (14:27.65) in school history for sixth place while senior Matt Cleaver, who was fifth in the 3000 on Saturday, grabbed eighth place with the ninth-best time (14:34.32) in the school record books.
In addition, junior Brian Detweiler finished with the 10th-fastest 5000 time (14:35.08) in school history to take ninth in the event.
Senior John Smith also returned to the scoring column with a fourth-place finish in the pole vault. Smith, who was eighth at the 2011 SEC Indoor Championships and runner-up at the 2010 outdoor meet, cleared the bar at a personal-best height of 17 feet to tie for fourth place.
Also at his final SEC indoor meet, senior Aaron LaGarde was fifth in the triple jump after his best jump measured 50-10.25. This was a three spot improvement from his 2011 finish at the meet.
While Evans set the tone in the men's 800, sophomore Megan Malasarte finished fifth on the women's side after having the exact same finish in the prelims. Malasarte has now had three consecutive 2:07s after starting her season in the 2:09 range.
Malasarte also helped pace the women's distance medley relay to a sixth-place finish. Malasarte, freshman Quintunya Chapman, junior Ashley Shiver and sophomore Stella Christoforou vaulted to the third spot on Georgia's all-time top-10 list in the event with a time of 11:35.42. This mark was only four hundredths of a second from the second-fastest time in Lady Bulldog history, which was clocked last year.
Freshman Tynia Gaither finished sixth in the 200 finals after recording a time of 23.93. Gaither came into the race with the seventh-fastest time in the SEC this year and clocked a 23.72 in the prelims.
Gaither also raced in the 60 finals for the Lady Bulldogs and finished one spot out of scoring. Gaither, who sped to the fastest time (7.43) in the event for the Lady Bulldogs in the last nine years to qualify, was ninth after crossing the finish line in 7.51, which is the second-fastest time of her career.
One first-year runner for the Lady Bulldogs, Carly Hamilton, sat out the mile finals after suffering a foot injury during the prelims. She got the 10th on Saturday and final spot for the mile finals. Hamilton clocked the second-fastest time of her UGA career (4:51.01).
The Bulldogs will now decide whether or not they will send any competitors to a "last chance" meet next weekend in order to qualify anyone else for the NCAA Indoor Championships, which are at Boise State March 9-10. Freshman pole vaulter Morgann Leleux and senior heptathlete Cory Holman, along with Atkinson in the high jump, have already automatically qualified for the national meet.
Full results and recaps from the SEC Championships will be located at georgiadogs.com.
Bulldog scorers - DAY ONE
|Justin Welch||Weight throw||66 feet, 9 ¼ inches/3rd|
|Morgann Leleux||Pole vault||14-1.25/3rd|
|Hilenn James||Shot put||^51-0.75/3rd|
|Cory Holman||Heptathlon||$%5,825 pts./3rd|
|Caleb Whitener||Weight throw||*60-9.25/5th|
|Garrett Scantling||Heptathlon||*5,481 pts/5th|
|Colleen Felix||Triple jump||*42-8.25/1st|
|Saniel Atkinson||High jump||*%6-0.75/2nd|
|Men's 4x400m Relay||$3:06.97/2nd|
|Men's Distance Medley Relay||^9:57.51/3rd|
|Latroya Darrell||Triple jump||^41-8.50/4th|
|Caleb Whitener||Shot put||58-10.25/4th|
|John Smith||Pole vault||*17-0.00-T4th|
|Aaron LaGarde||Triple jump||50-10.25/5th|
|Women's Distance Medley Relay||^11:35.42/6th|
|Maria Augutis||Triple jump||^40-8.25/7th|
$ - school record; & - NCAA automatic qualifying mark; * - personal-best effort; ^ - season-best effort