Four Bulldogs Earn All-America Certificates As Georgia Men Take 11th At NCAA Championships

 
Courtesy: Georgia Sports Communications
Chris Hill

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A not-so-rare occurrence became apparent when the final event of the 2009 NCAA Outdoor Championships was complete.

When the final team results were released, five Southeastern Conference teams were in the top 11 on the men's side while three SEC quads were in the women's top 10. the Georgia men, who finished 11th, and the rest of the SEC had further strengthened the argument that their league remains the dominant conference in the country.

Coming into the NCAA Championships ranked 20th in the latest U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) poll, the Georgia men answered the challenge with their best performance since 2002. The Bulldogs scored 19 points to finish 11th, which was the team's sixth top-20 finish in the last 10 seasons.

Leading the charge for Georgia at the national meet was junior Chris Hill, who cruised to his second NCAA javelin title in a row. Hill broke his own school record after posting a fifth throw in the NCAA finals of 268 feet, 4 inches, which was three inches farther than his 2008 record-setting mark. Topping the runner-up by nearly 20 feet, Hill captured the 13th NCAA title for the Georgia men and is the fifth person in school history to win at least two straight national championships.

An injury to his non-throwing arm early in the season could not halt one of the most prolific seasons in Georgia history for Hill. The Sulphur, La., native won his first SEC crown before recording his second straight win at the NCAA East Regional with a meet and facility record mark of 263-7.

The Bulldogs also had three more team members join Hill as All-Americans. Senior Justin Gaymon earned his third certificate in the 400-meter hurdles after finishing third with time of 49.02. Gaymon, who also finished third in 2007, completed his career as a six-time All-American, two-time NCAA East Regional champion and three-time SEC champion, as well as the school record holder in the 400 hurdles (48.46).

Georgia's other pair of All-Americans came in the hammer as senior Nate Rolfe and junior John Freeman finished seventh and eighth, respectively. After junior Branislav Danis gave the Bulldogs a record-breaking third finalist in the event, Rolfe had a top mark of 214-7 and Freeman, who tallied a career-best mark in qualifying (215-1), reached 213-3 in the finals.

On the women's side, junior Michelle Thompson (javelin) and sophomore Georgina Nembhard (100, 200) also advanced to the NCAA Championships. Thompson, who was the runner-up at the SEC meet, third at the regional and had a top effort of 177-10 for the year, finished 14th in the qualifying round with a toss of 156-8.

Nembhard, who along with Thompson was competing in her first NCAA meet, was 21st in the opening round of the 200 (24.08) and 23rd in the first round of the 100 (11.59) as the Lady Bulldogs failed to score at an NCAA outdoor meet for the first time since 1994.

Hill and throws coach Don Babbitt were honored by the USTFCCCA for their success. Hill was named the South Region Men's Field Athlete of the Year while Babbitt, who had six throwers advance to the NCAA outdoor meet, was given the title of the South Region Men's Assistant Coach of the Year.

Sharing the headlines with Hill at the NCAA East Regional meet was senior Kevin Dickson. Dickson traveled a personal-best 24-9 to win the long jump and shock the highly-ranked field. His victory gave him his first invitation to the national meet, as he managed a 26th-place finish during the qualifying round.

Georgia also experienced success at the SEC Championships. In addition to Hill's win, Danis (hammer) and Gaymon (400 hurdles) scored eight points each with second-place finishes as the Bulldogs finished fifth with 72 points. Thompson led the UGA women at the meet in the javelin and the Lady Bulldogs also had a flurry of fourth-place finishes as senior Emily Sanders (javelin), freshman Kristie Krueger (1500) and senior Josipa Jelicic (discus). Georgia ended up ninth at the meet after scoring 45.50 points.

Other highlights from the 2009 season were Georgia's sweep of Georgia Tech in a dual meet and the 27 NCAA East Regional qualifiers the teams took to Greensboro, N.C.

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