Gator track wins at NCAA East Regional

GAINESVILLE, Fla. * The men’s 4x400m relay capped the evening by earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships in leading the University of Florida men’s track and field team to second, while the women’s 4x100m took home the title on the final day of competition at the NCAA East Regional Championships on Saturday at James G. Pressly Stadium at Percy Beard Track.

The men took second with 56 points with Florida State winning the team title with 91. The women finished in third by scoring 49 points. Virginia Tech won the meet on the women’s side with 89 points and South Carolina took second with 62 points. Florida’s third-place finish was the team’s best since 2004 when the Gators took first and was three positions better than last year, when they tied for sixth. 

The men had seven athletes automatically qualify for the NCAA Outdoor Championships in six individual events, in addition to the 4x400m relay. Scoring points for Florida on the day was the 4x400m relay of freshman Carlos Phillips (Winter Park, Fla.), freshman All-American Calvin Smith (Lutz, Fla.), junior All-American Bernard Middleton (Jacksonville, Fla.) and junior Eric Alberter (Benton, Ill.), which took home the East Region title in 3:06.31, Smith who finished second in the 400m (45.60), sophomore Dennis Martin (Anderson, S.C.), who was fourth in the 110m hurdles (13.97), Perry, who took third in the 200m (20.57) and fifth in the 100m (10.50), junior All-American Wes Stockbarger (Port Charlotte, Fla.), who captured fifth in the shot put (18.43m/60-5.75), junior Ryder Leary (Yulee, Fla.), who was sixth in the steeplechase, Middleton who took eighth in the 400m (46.44) and the 4x100m relay of Martin, Smith, Perry and Middleton, which crossed the line in fourth (39.76).

“I’m very proud of all of our athletes,” Florida men’s coach Mike Holloway said. “We came out and competed hard and got a lot of guys qualified for nationals. In the next week, we’ll get ready for nationals and try and stay as healthy as we can. We’ve got some momentum going from this meet and that’s always a great thing to have.”

A total of eight women automatically advanced to compete in the NCAA Championships over the two days of the East Regional. The Gators’ 4x100m relay team of Abigail David (Port-of-Spain, Trinidad & Tobago), Natalie Knight (Snellville, Ga.), Lakecia Ealey (Albany, Ga.) and Zan Joseph (Boynton Beach, Fla.) ran the fifth-fastest time in school history to win the event, while junior Lindsay Sundell (Fort Salonga, N.Y.) moved on in the 3,000m steeplechase, freshman Lori Bowen (Tallahassee, Fla.) advanced in the pole vault, Ealey moved on in the 100m and Knight advanced in the 200m.

“The whole program took a big step forward today,” Florida women’s interim head coach Steve Lemke said. “The whole team has came closer together as the season has progressed. They all share a common goal and a common purpose and that came through today and we hope it continues at the NCAA meet.”

“It was good to have been able to compete in the regional meet here in Gainesville,” Lemke added. “We said all year we wanted to have a Gator in every event at this meet and we did that in nearly every event. Our field athletes did what they were supposed to do this weekend. Lori posted a PR in the pole vault to make the national meet today on top of Mariam and Evelien yesterday. The track events made a big jump yesterday and then made another big jump again today. They just keep getting better and better. We are really excited about going to compete at nationals.”

The men’s 4x400m relay of Phillips, Smith, Middleton and Alberter capped the evening for the Gators by claiming the East Region title with a time of 3:06.31. The Gators defeated the nation’s No. 3 4x400m in South Carolina to take the crown. UF was in second after the opening 400m before Smith ran a monster second leg to propel the Gators into the lead. Middleton and Alberter maintained the advantage to seal the win.

“We’ve been working very hard in practice, especially on our exchanges,” Smith said. “Our plan was for our first leg to keep us in the race and for me to try and get a lead that we would keep the rest of the way. This means a lot because we competed at home and we ran very well.”

The women’s 4x100m relay crossed the finish line in 44.03, the sixth-fastest time in school history and 12th in the nation this season, to win the event by 0.30 seconds. It was the first-ever NCAA East Regional relay title for the Gators and it came over the No. 2 ranked team in the nation, South Carolina, which took third. The victory also marks the first time that a team other than South Carolina or Miami has won the 4x100m relay and it scored 10 points toward the team standings for UF. The Gators will be vying to become UF’s first 4x100m relay team to earn All-America honors since 2005 when they compete at the national meet.

“We didn’t really expect this,” Joseph said. “But we’ve been practicing hard. This means a lot because we were the underdogs and we’ve been through a lot this season. We have a lot of extra motivation, and we’re dedicating this to Coach (Tom) Jones, so I’m glad we got it done. We are also very appreciative of Coach (Mike) Holloway.”

On the men’s side, Smith also clocked a PR and the 10th-fastest time in Florida history to earn a trip to the national meet with a runner-up finish in the 400m (45.60). Smith’s time ranks sixth in the nation and will give him the opportunity to become just the third athlete and second freshman in UF history to earn All-America honors in the 400m both indoors and outdoors in the same season.

Martin improved on his PR in the 110m hurdles for the fourth time this season in crossing the finish line in fourth with a time of 13.97. Martin nearly took second in the event as just 0.03 of a second separated second from fourth place. He’ll move on to the national meet and attempt to join Josh Walker (2003) as the second athlete in school history to earn All-America honors in the event as a sophomore.

An hour after running in the 100m, Perry captured third in the 200m with a time of 20.57 * the second-best mark of his career. Perry nearly took runner-up honors as he was just 0.01 away from second. He’ll attempt to become the first athlete in Florida history to earn outdoor All-America honors in the 200m as a freshman and sophomore. He also was fifth in the 100m (10.50) and automatically qualified for NCAAs, but Perry will likely focus on the 200m.

After claiming the discus title with a meet record throw on Friday, Stockbarger qualified for NCAAs in the shot put with a fifth-place toss of 18.43m/60-5.75. He will attempt to join Matt Simson and Dwight Johnson as the only Gators to ever earn indoor and outdoor All-America honors in the shot put in the same season and could also become the first athlete in school history to earn All-America honors in the shot put and discus at the same meet.

For the women, Sundell clocked a school-record and personal-best 10:07.25 in the 3,000m steeplechase to finish fourth and advance to the NCAA Championships. Sundell broke the school record, which she already held, by over 13 seconds. Sundell finished ahead of the Southeastern Conference champion, Georgia’s Sarah Madebach, who took fifth. Liz Wort of Duke won the event in an NCAA East Regional record 9:52:34. Sundell scored five points for UF with the finish and will be vying to become Florida’s first All-American in the steeplechase when she competes at the national meet.

In the pole vault, Bowen posted the fifth-best mark school history (3.96m/12-11.75) to finish fourth advance to the NCAA Championship meet. The mark was a PR for Bowen by an inch and three-quarters and it scored five points for the Gators in the team standings. Bowen will look to become just the second Gator to earn All-America status in the outdoor pole vault when she competes at nationals.

Ealey also earned an automatic qualification to the by finishing the 100m in second with a time of 11.49, just 0.07 seconds off of the winning mark. She recorded the mark despite running into a wind of 2.6 meters per second to score eight points. Ealey will attempt to become Florida’s first 100m All-American since Kisha Jett in 1998.

In the 200m, Knight took third by crossing the finish line in 23.10 to score six points. South Carolina’s Natasha Hastings won the event by running an East Regional record 22.62. Knight advances to the NCAA Championships and will look to earn All-America honors in the 200m for the second time in her career, having previous done so in 2005.

The Gators’ 4x400m relay team of junior Dominique McLeggan (Weston, Fla.), Joseph, David and junior Lorain McKenzie (Clarendon, Jamaica) finished in seventh-place with a time of 3:38.58 to score two points.

Garnering eighth-place finishes and scoring a point each for the Gators were McKenzie in the 800m and sophomore Shawneise Williams (Archer, Fla.) in the hammer throw. McKenzie clocked 2:10.43 in 800m, while Williams tossed the hammer 54.75m/179-7, the fourth-best mark of her career. McKenzie did not automatically advance to the national meet, but still has a chance to be an at-large selection. She entered this weekend with the nation’s 15th-fastest 800m time (2:05.68).

On the men’s side, the 4x100m barely missed out on securing an automatic birth into the national meet as the foursome of Martin, Smith, Perry and Middleton crossed the finish line in 39.76 * just 0.12 behind Georgia, which took the third and final spot in 39.64.

After obtaining the first qualifying time of his career at the SEC Outdoor Championships two weeks ago, Leary nearly advanced to his first national meet as well as he shaved more than 10 seconds off his PR to take sixth with the sixth-fastest time in school history. He was less than one second behind the fifth-place finisher and a spot at the NCAA Championships. Junior Enoch Nadler (Keystone Heights, Fla.) took 26th in the event in 9:15.99, while junior Jose Garcia (Miami, Fla.) was 33rd in 9:26.57.

Middleton also competed in the 400m and finished eighth with his second-fastest time of the season (46.44).

Sophomore Beau Burroughs (Tampa, Fla.) fell just two inches shy of his PR in the shot put and finished 11th with a toss of 17.36m/56-11.50.

Redshirt junior Blake Taylor (Lansdale, Pa.) capped his Gator career by taking 13th in the high jump after clearing 2.06m/6-9. Less than a month ago, Taylor had never surpassed 1.90m/6-2.75 outdoors, but qualified for regionals by finishing fourth at the Southeastern Conference Outdoor Championships after jumping 2.10m/6-10.75.

Florida will next compete at the NCAA Outdoor Championships June 6-9 in Sacramento, Calif. The NCAA will announce the complete field of competitors at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, May 29.

Men’s Team Standings (through 19 events):

1. Florida State 91; 2. FLORIDA 56; 3. South Carolina 42.33; 4. Georgia 33.33; 5. North Carolina 30; 6. Clemson 29; 7. Cornell 27.50; 8. Liberty 25.50; 9. Virginia Tech 24.50; 10. Georgia Tech 21.50; 11. North Carolina State 21; 11. Penn State 21; 11. Villanova 21; 14. Manhattan 20; 15. Virginia 19; 16. Albany 16.50; 17. Maryland 12; 18. Appalachian State 11; 18. Princeton 11; 18. Wake Forest 11; 21. American 10; 21. Campbell 10; 21. Binghamton 10; 21. Georgetown 10; 21. Providence 10; 26. Coastal Carolina 9; 27. Iona 8; 27. Dartmouth 8; 27. La Salle 8; 27. Columbia 8; 31. Rhode Island 7; 31. Hampton 7; 33. Miami 6; 33. Maryland-Eastern Shore 6; 33. Sacred Heart 6; 33. East Carolina 6; 33. Syracuse 6; 38. Western Carolina 5; 38. Duquesne 5; 38. Fairleigh-Dickinson 5; 42. Rider 4; 42. Navy 4; 42. Yale 4; 45. South Florida 3.50; 46. Seton Hall 3; 46. Winthrop 3; 46. Coppin State 3; 46. Howard 3; 50. Bucknell 2; 50. Robert Morris 2; 50. Charleston Southern 2; 50. Boston University 2; 50. Charlotte 2; 55. Brown 1; 55. Bethune-Cookman 1; 55. Army 1; 58. Connecticut 0.33.

Florida Men’s NCAA East Regional Champions (5 athletes, 2 titles):

Wes Stockbarger * Discus

Carlos Phillips, Calvin Smith, Bernard Middleton, Eric Alberter * 4x400m

Florida Men’s Automatic NCAA Championships Qualifiers (7 athletes, 7 events, 1 relay):

Dennis Martin * 110m Hurdles

Willie Perry * 100m

Willie Perry * 200m

Calvin Smith * 400m

Wes Stockbarger * Shot Put

Wes Stockbarger * Discus

Carlos Phillips, Calvin Smith, Bernard Middleton, Eric Alberter * 4x400m