JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Feb. 21, 2009) - The Buccaneer quest for a three-peat is still intact after the ETSU men's track and field team won the 2009 Atlantic Sun Indoor Conference Championship on Saturday inside Memorial Center.
Back in November the ETSU men's cross country team hoisted the conference crown trophy in Macon, Ga. and now on the David E. Walker track on Saturday, the Bucs kept their chance for a three-peat alive heading into the outdoor season. ETSU held off the reigning champions Kennesaw State for the team title by 20.5 points.
Since joining the Atlantic Sun Conference back in 2005-06, ETSU has won three indoor titles on the men's side, and in total, head coach David E. Walker has guided the Bucs to five indoor conference crowns.
In total, nine Buccaneer athletes on the men's side won conference championships - including sophomore distance runner Ben Ronoh (Sotik, Kenya) sweeping the 3000m and 5000m events en route to a Most Outstanding Track Performer honors.
As a team, ETSU scored a conference record 172 points and held off a late charge by the Owls, who finished with 151.5 points. Campbell ended in third with 85 points.
"We knew Kennesaw State was going to come at us hard, but we felt like we had the depth in the 200m and 5000m to come through with a title," commented associate head coach Michelle Byrne. "I think the biggest thing is, it's a two-day meet, and the championship is won and lost in every event area. We did a tremendous job taking advantage of our strong points but when we got pressured by Kennesaw State we held our composure. When they (Kennesaw) took the lead, we convened as a group and told the guys to keep their focus. We regrouped and talked as a staff, and met with the sprinters and distance runners. What it came down to is the guys came through in the end. I am very proud of the team and the staff as we bounced back after having our backs pinned against the well. It was a testament to show how bad they wanted this title. Kennesaw State is a tremendous competitor and they have a great team. They bring the best out in us."
The Buccaneer men started out the morning with a bang on Saturday, as a trio of ETSU athletes won gold in their respective events.
With the Bucs entering the final day with a 30-point advantage over Kennesaw State, ETSU was able to extend its lead over Kennesaw State by 40 points - 104 to 64.
Nic Chernikow (Seymour, Tenn.) and fellow junior Jordan Briggs (Erwin, Tenn.) had a big hand in widening the Buccaneer lead, as Chernikow won the heptathlon and Briggs posted a third-place finish. Chernikow - who entered the final three events 182 points behind Kennesaw State's Casey Strickland - rallied past the field to post an A-Sun and ETSU record with 4820 points. Briggs fought hard to make the podium as he entered the day in fifth, and walked away with a bronze medal after ending with 4273 points.
After dominating in the shot put on Friday, junior Jarrod Burton (Bastian, Va.) was busy battling Josh McNair from Kennesaw State for a new conference record. With the title on the line, Burton stepped up with a record-breaking toss of 61-00.75 (18.61m), which broke his previous conference best of 57-10.25 (17.63m). Burton set that mark as a freshman back in 2007 and beat out McNair in 2009 by almost seven inches (60-07.25).
Then, after Burton finished his work, Josh Cloyd (Telford, Tenn.) made it a clean Buccaneer sweep in the horizontal jumps. Fresh off his win yesterday in the long jump, the senior leaper posted a first-place mark of 47-02.25 (14.38m) in the triple.
However, later in day Kennesaw State started making its move, and after the men's 800m, the Owls took the lead for the first time (after 14 scored events). The Owls bagged 18 points in the event and led the Bucs 140.50 to 131 with only three events remaining.
But with three events left in the race for a championship, ETSU rose to the challenge and brought the hardware back to Johnson City.
It all started with Quentin Greenlee's (Morristown, Tenn.) and Duronal Monal's (Belle Glade, Fla.) stellar performances in the 200m. Greenlee tied a conference record with a top time of 21.61, while Monal finished right behind his teammate with a mark of 21.88.
Then, with the Bucs leading Kennesaw by 9.5 points, Ronoh and his cousin Kenneth Rotich (Nairobi, Kenya), solidified the championship by finishing one-two in the 5000m. Ronoh, a sophomore transfer from Milligan, set a conference time with a mark of 14:48.84; while his cousin Kenneth followed right behind in 14:50.48. Senior Jeff Crane (Taylors, S.C.) also provided a scoring effort in the event by finishing sixth (15:17.99).
In the afternoon events, sophomore Mike James (Palm Bay, Fla.) gave the Bucs a lift in the finals of the 60-meter hurdles. James finished second behind Campbell's Adoniss Jones with a time 8.24.
Prior to his second-place finish in the 200m, (Duronal) Monal flew his way to a gold medal in the 60m. Monal crossed the line with a top mark of 6.87 - earning 10 points for the Bucs.
On the women's side, seniors Heidi Dahl (Orem, Utah) and Judy Johnson (Knoxville) each won conference championships and both ran a leg in ETSU's 4x400-meter relay championship as well.
The performances helped guide the Lady Bucs to a third-place finish by scoring 84 total points. In the end, Jacksonville claimed its fourth straight indoor title (171 points) after shrugging off a tough and upcoming Kennesaw State squad (109 points).
"We absolutely performed as well as we were capable of on the women's side," said Byrne. "The third-place finish is a huge improvement from last season. We are very talented, but don't have the depth that we do on the men's side, which is what we are constantly looking to improve. We finished strong in the relay, while Heidi and Judy ran extremely well in their events."
Dahl continued her impressive ways in the mile. Dahl - who was shooting for an automatic mark to the NCAA Championships - just fell short by finishing with an impressive time of 4:39.39. The Orem, Utah native managed not only to break her previous school record but also set a new conference record as well.
In the sprints, Johnson accounted for 18 points after finishing first in the 200m and second in the 60m.
Johnson was edged out by Jacksonville's Natasha Harvey in the 60m, as Harvey won with a time of 7.54 and Johnson crossed the line with a time of 7.57. However, Johnson cruised to victory with a time of 24.14 - marking an ETSU school record. Fellow senior Nae-Nae Bailey (Statesville, N.C.) scored two points in the 60m and four in the 200m. Bailey finished with a mark of 7.64 in the 60m and 24.56 in the 200m.
Sophomore Jasmine Ingram (Frederick, Md.) also gave the Lady Bucs a lift in the sprints as well. The sophomore sprinter collected eight points after finishing second in the 400m with a time of 56.79.
The Lady Bucs went four-five in the 800m, with the sophomore combo of Hannah Audia (Pennington Gap, Va.) and Ashton Bishop (Gate City, Va.) coming through in the event. Audia placed fourth with a time 2:20.80 and Bishop posted a mark of 2:21.29.
In the field events, junior Zachlynn Blackburn (Tazewell, Va.) scored six points in the weight throw, finishing third with a mark of 16.01m.
ETSU capped off the final event of the day with an exclamation point by claiming the 4x400-meter relay crown with a conference record time of 3:46.38.
A handful of Buccaneer athletes will continue their indoor season by competing at the Virginia Tech Last Meet on March 7.
For more information on Buccaneer track and field, visit www.ETSUBucs.com.