Ryan Walling throws up the Landshark after his SEC title in the 3000 meters. (photo by Petre Thomas)
Feb. 26, 2016
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – They’ve been making history all season long, and day one of the SEC Indoor Track & Field Championships on Friday was no different for the Ole Miss Rebels.
The Ole Miss men and women, under the tutelage of first-year head coach Connie Price-Smith and her staff, racked up two league titles and qualified a number of runners through Friday’s prelims to set up a big opportunity for Saturday’s final day at the Randal Tyson Track Center.
After one day, Ole Miss is third in the men’s team standing with 27.5 points and ninth in the women’s standings with 10 points. The Rebel men have finished as high as third at the indoor conference meet twice – in 1983 and 1984. They were fourth last year.
Ole Miss saved its best for last on Friday, winning league titles in the women’s shot put and men’s 3000 meters toward the end of the night.
Sophomore Raven Saunders, who has been phenomenal all season in the shot put, won her first SEC title as expected. But it wasn’t quite the way she or anyone anticipated. Her first throw of 17.28m/56-8.5 was good enough to edge Tennessee’s Cassie Wertman (17.24m/56-6.75), while all five of Saunders’ other throws were fouls due to stepping out of the ring. It was the worst winning throw of the season for Saunders, who two weeks ago set the all-time NCAA record of 19.23m/63-1.25.
But Saunders still set some history on Friday, as she became the first Ole Miss athlete to win an SEC indoor title in the shot put. She will compete in the weight throw on Saturday.
The highlight of the day for Ole Miss was the men’s 3000 meters, where the Rebels crossed the line 1-2-3 in a thrilling finish. Senior Ryan Walling, a transfer from North Carolina, became the first Rebel to claim an SEC title in the 3K when he crossed in 8:08.55. He was followed closely by sophomore Sean Tobin in 8:09.42 and senior Wesley Gallagher in 8:11.64.
The 3K trio accounted for a whopping 24 team points in that event alone.
The other team points for Ole Miss came from senior high jumper Branden Greene, who tied for fifth with a clearance of 2.07m/6-9.5 to earn 3.5 points.
All five of the men’s milers qualified for Saturday’s 10-man final in another impressive display of distance running. Ryan Manahan (4:06.06), Tobin (4:07.07), Robert Domanic (4:07.22) and Derek Gutierrez (4:07.23) automatically advanced by finishing top three in their heat, while Trevor Gilley (4:07.05) made it through on time.
Craig Engels advanced to Saturday’s final in the men’s 800 meters with a time of 1:47.95, while Leanne Zimmer qualified for the women’s 800 final with a personal-best time of 2:09.22 that moved her up to fourth in school history.
The SEC Championships can be brutal, too. Senior Khadijah Suleman had an exceptional showing in the women’s sprints but did not advance to a final because of the elite-level competition. Suleman set personal bests in both the 60 meters (7.38) and 200 meters (23.65). She missed the 60-meter final by one spot with a ninth-place result. She jumps all the way up to fourth in school history in the 60 and second in the 200.
Ole Miss athletes racked up a total of 10 personal bests, continuing a season-long trend of improving almost every time out.
For more information on Ole Miss Track & Field, follow the Rebels on Twitter at @OleMissTrack, as well as Facebook and Instagram.
Connie Price-Smith – Ole Miss Head Coach
On the team’s performance Friday …
“This is a great meet. It was a really good first day. We had a lot of PRs on the track and obviously some conference champions. The 3000 was awesome with a 1-2-3 finish. Raven didn’t throw as great as she wanted, but she still came away with a win and that’s what’s important. Branden got points on the board in the high jump, and a lot of the athletes came out and had great marks.”
On how Friday night’s strong finish can carry over to Saturday …
“The momentum when you have a good finish at the end of the day, it’s a big high for you going into the second day. The athletes feed off of that. Now they see where they are on the board and what they need to do to put more points on the board.”
Raven Saunders – Women’s Shot Put Champion
Reaction to winning the SEC shot put crown …
“I was happy that I won, but really upset at my distance. I’ve been working really hard in practice.”
What she can learn from her performance …
“It just helps me learn how to keep composure. I’ve learned a couple of things about the way the meet went. So there’s definitely a lot to learn from it. Definitely excited going into Nationals.”
On her SEC title and the difference from last year’s NCAA and Missouri Valley Conference titles …
“It’s actually pretty nice. The only difference for me is this championship season I’m not surrounded by two and three and four other shot put teammates like I had last year (at Southern Illinois). So this year is more of a year of learning how to compete individually and bring out the energy from inside of me and going out and competing.”
Ryan Walling – Men’s 3000m Champion
On his thoughts at the end of the race …
“I looked up at the big screen with about 100 to go and I saw Sean and Wes behind me, and I knew we had it. Honestly all I could think about was how big it was for the team and how big the points were going to be. It was great.”
On winning an SEC title in his first and only year as a Rebel …
“This is my fifth year of college and these are the moments that you dream about. Coming into a conference championship and doing something with your team. Individual stuff is nice, but you only get so many runs as a team and this is the best one.”
Sean Tobin – Men’s 3000m Runner-Up
On starting slow and moving up at the end of the race …
“I suppose I ran the mile earlier, and I was hoping (the 3000) would go slow so I knew that I would have to kick. When the two guys broke away, I was like ‘I have to do it for the team.’ I just put my head down and kept going. We talk about this every day in training and it’s what we work for, so it’s a dream to have two guys beside you. Second is a win. Third is a win. This is amazing.”
Wesley Gallagher – Men’s 3000m Third Place
On the significance of the 1-2-3 result for Ole Miss …
“We just put up 24 points to start the meet. Hopefully this momentum carries over to tomorrow. For the team, it was great. It doesn’t matter if we got first, second or third. It was a good feeling.”
WOMEN (4 of 17 Events)
1. Georgia – 25
2. Arkansas – 22
3. Tennessee – 18
4. Alabama – 15
5. Auburn – 13
6. Florida – 12
7. Kentucky – 11
7. Mississippi State – 11
9. Ole Miss – 10
10. Vanderbilt – 8
11. Texas A&M – 7
12. Missouri – 4
MEN (5 of 17 Events)
1. Arkansas – 42
2. Texas A&M – 34.83
3. Ole Miss – 27.5
4. Alabama – 21
5. Georgia – 16
6. Kentucky – 14
7. Auburn – 13
8. South Carolina – 12.33
9. Tennessee – 6
10. Florida – 3.33
11. Missouri – 3
12. LSU – 2
60 Meter Prelims
9. Khadijah Suleman – 7.38 (PR)
21. Nicole Henderson – 7.48
27. Shannon Ray – 7.56
30. Breanna Tate – 7.61
200 Meter Prelims
17. Khadijah Suleman – 23.65 (PR)
21. Breanna Tate – 23.88 (PR)
26. Nicole Henderson – 24.33 (PR)
Shannon Ray – DQ
400 Meter Prelims
22. Kiannah Alexander – 54.95
27. Jolie Carbo – 55.46 (PR)
29. Deanna Tate – 55.74 (PR)
33. Aisha Newsome – 56.17 (PR)
800 Meter Prelims
5. Leanne Zimmer – 2:09.22q (PR)
15. Maddie McHugh – 2:11.62
19. Taylor Corder – 2:13.24
13. Katherine MacNeal – 4:52.61 (PR)
15. Britt Ummels – 9:41.74
60 Meter Hurdle Prelims
22. Racquel Moses – 8.63 (PR)
21. Lanae Newsome – 5.61m/18-5
1. Raven Saunders – 17.28m/56-8.5 (10 points)
60 Meter Prelims
19. Darryl Brown – 6.86 (PR)
200 Meter Prelims
Darryl Brown – DQ
800 Meter Prelims
6. Craig Engels – 1:47.95q
1. Ryan Manahan – 4:06.06Q
2. Sean Tobin – 4:07.07Q
4. Robert Domanic – 4:07.22Q
6. Derek Gutierrez – 4:07.23Q
8. Trevor Gilley – 4:07.05q
1. Ryan Walling – 8:08.55 (10 points)
2. Sean Tobin – 8:09.42 (8 points)
3. Wesley Gallagher – 8:11.64 (6 points)
13. Brandon Harvey – 8:24.92 (PR)
16. MJ Erb – 8:27.93
T5. Branden Greene – 2.07m/6-9.5 (3.5 points)
17. Branden Greene – 6.88m/22-7
Peyton Moss – DNF