JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Feb. 20, 2009) - After having its two-year run as indoor conference champions come to an end last season, the ETSU men's track and field team made a statement on day one of the 2009 Atlantic Sun Indoor Conference Championships on Friday, as the Buccaneers hold a 30-point lead over reigning conference champions Kennesaw State. Meanwhile, the Lady Bucs currently sit fourth with 19 points.
The Bucs enjoyed being on their home soil inside the Memorial Center, as senior Josh Cloyd (Telford, Tenn.), junior Jarrod Burton (Bastian, Va.) and sophomore transfer Ben Ronoh (Sotik, Kenya) each bagged individual championships on Friday afternoon.
"I think the goals we set as a team on the men's side going in to today's competition we accomplished," said associate head track and field coach Michelle Byrne. "We expected our athletes who have been performing well all year to step up and we got those efforts. Burton, Cloyd and Ronoh all came through in a big way for us today."
Ronoh helped guide the Bucs to a strong finish in the men's 3000m, as he beat out his cousin Kenneth Rotich (Nairobi, Kenya) for the title by setting a new conference mark. Ronoh claimed the crown and wiped out Belmont's John Brigham's time of 8:30.82, posting a mark of 8:24.55. Rotich - who entered the meet with the fastest time in the event - posted a time of 8:25.47. Overall ETSU scored 19 points in this one event after senior Michael Deren (Blasdell, N.Y.) finished sixth.
"It was nice to Ben and Kenneth finish one-two in the 3000m," added Byrne. "We wanted to put three guys near the top and take the points and run. The guys did just that and helped establish momentum throughout the day."
Ronoh wasn't done helping ETSU bag up points, as he also ran a leg in the distance medley - which finished second behind Kennesaw State. The Owls finished with a top time of 10:16.04 and the Bucs missed a shot of knocking off Kennesaw State by recording a time of 10:17.49. Senior Jeff Crane (Taylors, S.C.) began the first leg of the race, and then junior Terrence Maxwell (Kingsport, Tenn.) ran the 400m portion. Sophomore Manny Gonzales (Maryville, Tenn.) ran the 800m leg, while Ronoh closed out the 1600m part of the race.
Meanwhile, as Ronoh was tearing things up on the track, both Cloyd and Burton were doing the same in the field events.
Cloyd - who finished third in the long jump a year ago - beat out Campbell's Harold Sims by nearly a foot. The Telford, Tenn. native claimed the conference title with an impressive leap of 24-03.75 (7.41m), while Sims ended in second with a mark of 23-04.50 (7.12m).
Burton didn't let the Buccaneer faithful down in the shot put either. The junior thrower entered the meet as the number one athlete in the event and lived up to expectations with a new ETSU record toss of 55-05 (16.89m). Burton beat Kennesaw State's Josh McNair - who posted a heave of 53-05.50 (16.29m). In addition, freshman Cornell Sneed (Miami, Fla.) scored a point by finishing sixth.
"Burton's effort in the shot put speaks volumes," Byrne said. "He's our team leader and encourages everyone to step their game up. He does the same in his event area and really gave us a huge lift today."
After the first four events of the men's heptathlon, junior Nic Chernikow (Seymour, Tenn.) is in contention for a conference crown. Chernikow sits in third (2705 points), behind Kennesaw State's Casey Strickland (2887) and USC Upstate's Perrish Goggins (2817). The final three events of this grueling competition kick off at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday with the 60-meter hurdles.
Chernikow also advanced to Saturday's finals in the 60-meter hurdles, finishing sixth with a time of 8.80. Sophomore Mike James (Palm Bay, Fla.) will also have shot for a conference title in the event after he placed fourth in the prelims.
Junior Jordan Briggs (Erwin, Tenn.) - who is also battling with Chernikow in the heptathlon - scored eight points for the Bucs in the pole vault on Friday. Briggs finished second with a mark of 14-01.25 (4.30m). Currently, Briggs sits fifth in the heptathlon with 2285 points.
"Nic and Jordan were warriors out there today," commented Byrne. "Both positioned themselves well in the heptathlon and Jordan also came away with an important scoring effort in the pole vault, while Nic advanced to tomorrow's finals in the 60-meter hurdles."
Also advancing to the finals on Friday were Quentin Greenlee (Morristown, Tenn.) and Duronal Monal (Belle Glade, Fla.). Both sprinters were seeing action for the first time in over a month, but the duo came away with qualifying times in the 60m prelims. Greenlee boasted the top time of 6.83, while Monal qualified with a mark of 6.94.
As a team, ETSU scored 64 points on day one, compared to Kennesaw State's 34 and Campbell's 22 opening-day showing.
"We know Kennesaw State will not lie down," added Byrne. "They are the defending champions and we respect how they show up and compete. Our guys answered the call today, but we need to take care of business tomorrow. We control our own destiny and need to execute in the event areas where we have depth in. Hopefully we can build on what happened today and move forward."
On the women's side, the Lady Bucs sit fourth with 19 total points. Jacksonville - who is searching for its fourth straight crown - leads after the first day of competition with 59 points. However, Kennesaw State is lurking right behind with 55 points.
Twelve points by the Lady Bucs came in the shot put, as junior Zachlynn Blackburn (Tazewell, Va.) and freshman Lili Barboza (Oxford, Ala.) posted stellar days in the event. Blackburn finished second with a season-best heave of 40-09.50 (12.43m), which broke up Jacksonville's Ronnisha Hall (first place) and Tiffany Bromfield (third) shot at 1-2 finish. Barboza nearly smashed her season-best by three feet, as she placed fourth with a toss of 39-01 (11.91m). The freshman thrower entered the meet with a previous best mark of 36-06.25 (11.13m), which was set at the Appalachian State Invitational.
Seniors Judy Johnson (Knoxville) and Nae-Nae Bailey (Statesville, N.C.) both advanced to Saturday's 60-meter dash final. Johnson won the prelims with a season-best mark of 7.60, while Bailey also set a season-best with a time of 7.66.
"The goal in the sprints was to advance in numbers, which is what we did," said Byrne. "We wanted to try to squeak a third runner in both the men's and women's side, but we just fell short. Judy and Nae-Nae are capable of being on the podium tomorrow, but need to run well tomorrow. The same goes for Quentin and Duronal.
Sophomore Hayley Pope (Easton, Md.) put together a scoring effort in the high jump by finishing fifth (1.58m).
The A-Sun Championships conclude on Saturday with the postrace ceremonies taking place at 4:30 p.m. For live scoring please visit http://www.cfpitiming.com/resultsmj/.
For a full recap of Saturday's events, visit www.ETSUBucs.com.