COLUMBIA, Mo. – The Kentucky men’s 4x400 relay knocked off second-ranked LSU Saturday for the first time in NCAA Mideast Regional history and five additional Wildcats qualified for the upcoming NCAA Championships to highlight a stellar final day at the Audrey J. Walton Stadium on the campus of the University of Missouri.
The NCAA Championships take place June 6-9 at the Alex G. Spanos Sports Complex in Sacramento, Calif. For ticket information, please call (916) 566-2400.
The men’s 4x400 relay team, consisting of Nathan Browning (Petersburg, Ill.) Jose Acevedo (Caracas, Venezuela), Justin Harrison (Wheaton, Ill.) and Luis Luna (Barquisimeto, Venezuela), which finished second in the nation at the 2007 NCAA Indoor Meet and second at last year’s Mideast Regional, finished in a time of 3:04.49. The Wildcats entered the meet ranked fourth in the nation according to Trackwire’s Dandy Dozen.
Luna was trailing two competitors at the start of the anchor leg, but came on strong around the turn and ran a gutsy final 100 meters to take the win. Prior to Saturday evening, LSU had never lost in the 4x400 meter relay in the previous four years of the NCAA Mideast Regional.
“We had two goals coming into today,” UK sprints coach Erin Tucker said. “We wanted to run a time of 3:01 and we wanted to win. We accomplished one of those goals and that was a big accomplishment. I tip my hat to LSU and Mississippi State. Just like last year we put on a show for the crowd. Races like that are why the fans come to track meets.”
Two weeks after claiming his second consecutive Southeastern Conference title in the 1,500 meter, junior John Richardson (Ocean City, N.J.) claimed the regional title in that event. Richardson finished in a time of 3:44.44.
“John ran a great race today,” said UK head coach Don Weber, who works directly with Richardson. “It’s incredible what a good racer he is and how he understands performance from every aspect. There is no question that that is what separates him from other runners. Every race is a challenge and you don’t get past that when you when a race. At every state, every race has greater and greater significance and pressure. He did a good job of keeping his wits about him under the conditions today.”
Richardson was almost ready to commence the race at its regularly scheduled start time of 5:20 p.m. when the meet was halted due to lightning in the area. Following an hour and 15 minute rain delay, Richardson returned to the track for his title-winning run.
“It was really nerve-racking,” Richardson said. “I was fighting some demons there at the beginning of the race with the rain delay and then we were called off the line. I had some doubt in my mind as we started, but I knew I just had to push that doubt out. There was some stiff competition, but I just knew that if I did my best, the chips would fall into place in the race.
Freshman sprinter Jenna Martin (Nova Scotia, Canada), who on Friday set the rookie school record in the 400 meter, returned to run a time of 53.05 and finish in fourth place to earn her spot at the upcoming NCAA Championships. Martin holds Kentucky’s freshman school records in both the indoor and outdoor 400 and, during indoor season, was the fastest freshman in the event in the nation.
Luna, who has recorded an outstanding final campaign, advanced to the NCAA Championships by placing fourth in the men's 400-meter dash. Luna just missed equaling his personal best that he recorded yesterday, by finishing in a time of 46.17. He posted a collegiate-best time of 46.15 in Friday’s prelims, which ranks tied for second all-time in school history.
The women’s 4x400 relay team ran a valiant race and came up just short of the school record in the event. The relay team, which consists of Kleo Mack (Dublin, Ohio), Lavera Morris (Orlando, Fla.), Ashley Trimble (Columbus, Ohio) and Martin, finished third in its heat with the second-fastest time in school history at 3:38.78. The school record was 3:38.45 that was run in 1996.
Battling back from a difficult first day, sophomore thrower Ashley Muffet (North Canton, Ohio) rebounded to punch her NCAA ticket in the discus. Her personal-best toss of 170-0 in that event placed her second all-time in school history.
Fellow thrower Gavin Ball (Cottage Grove, Wisc.) rallied to finish third in the men’s discus with an impressive final throw of 59-5.0. The mark was his personal-best on the way to an automatic qualifying mark to the upcoming NCAA Championships.
“After a rough first day, I think there was a lot of disappointment for both Gavin and Ashley,” UK throws coach Doug Reynolds said. “They had a choice to make about whether they were done or whether they were going to come back and fight. They knew they had an opportunity to be successful and advance to nationals. They both did a great job and they both fought through adversity to perform at the top of their level.
“That was the best throw in outdoors for Gavin Ball and it was clutch,” Reynolds continued. “It was a lifetime PR for Ashley Muffet in a heated competition. She had some people pass her and she knew she had to come up with a big sixth throw to advance, and she came through. That says a lot about the character, integrity and the will to win that those two kids have. I think that also says a lot about the future of our program. We have some great leadership from young athletes like Ashley Muffet. And Gavin Ball was a senior that really closed out the year on a strong note.