LEXINGTON, Ky. -Ricky Robertson and Sam Kendricks stole the show Sunday with sensational SEC titles to lead the Ole Miss men's team to their best outdoor finish in 30 years at the 2014 Southeastern Conference Track & Field Championships.
Led by second-year head coach Brian O'Neal, the Rebels placed fifth in the men's team standings with 78 points. It's their highest outdoor finish since they were runners-up in 1984 and their second-most points ever scored at an outdoor league meet.
"I'm proud of the team and proud of their efforts," O'Neal said. "We challenged our athletes to compete at a high level, and I thought everyone gave their absolute best. When people upped the ante, we upped the ante right along with them."
Robertson, a fifth-year senior from Hernando, Mississippi, capped his SEC career in style with his seventh league high jump crown, clearing 7-3.25. Combined with his performances in the triple and long jumps, he captured the SEC Commissioner's Trophy for scoring the most points at the meet (23). It was the second time in his career to win the award (2012 indoors), and he's the second-straight Rebel to win the outdoor award (Isiah Young last year).
Robertson impressively competed in the triple jump at the exact same time as the high jump. He finished runner-up despite leading most of the way. On the sixth and final attempt, Florida's Marquis Dendy overtook him with a nation's best mark of 54-2.5 and then Robertson responded with the nation's second-best mark of 53-11.75. It was a huge PR for Robertson, who is third in school history in the event. He also placed fourth in the long jump on Saturday with a PR of 25-3.5.
"Coach said just do what I do best, and I came out and won," said Robertson. "It meant a lot to me coming out and competing for my teammates."
"You can't quite put into words what Ricky has meant to this program," O'Neal said. "Everyone knows he's a great athlete, but the things he's willing to do to help this team be successful is what true leadership is about. To go out there and simultaneously compete at the level he did, that's a tremendous sacrifice and I'm just proud of him."
Not to be outdone, Kendricks was crowned SEC champion in the pole vault with a Kentucky facility record of 18-6. The reigning NCAA outdoor and SEC indoor champion added his first SEC outdoor title to his ever-growing list of achievements. The junior from Oxford, Mississippi, was one of two vaulters to clear 18-6 (along with Tennessee's Jake Blankenship), but won the title based on fewer misses.
"I thought Sam really battled today," O'Neal said. "He had swirling winds and some unpredictable conditions. But he's one of our leaders. We know we can count on him week in and week out to do big things for us.
"The leadership that Ricky and Sam provide this team is special. To know coming into today that we could rally around those guys and that they would put big points on the board gave our guys confidence to relax and compete."
The 1,500 meters turned out to be a great event for Ole Miss, as well, with three Rebel freshmen placing in the top eight. Robert Domanic was runner-up with a time of 3:49.02, while Sean Tobin was fourth in 3:49.97 and Trevor Gilley eighth in 3:51.58. Domanic's second-place result was the best finish ever by a Rebel in the SEC 1,500 meters.
"That was a gutsy run in the 1,500 today. In the heat of the battle, I was proud of the way our young men stuck their nose in there and competed," O'Neal said. "We scored a lot of points in a one-hour span and that gave us a shot of adrenaline."
The Rebels posted a whopping 67 points on Sunday alone, which was third-most among teams behind team champion Texas A&M and runner-up Arkansas.
"We knew we would have a lot of points on the board and we challenged the team to maximize those points," O'Neal said. "I thought we did a great job of that today."
Junior Phillip Young placed third in the triple jump a day after he was fifth in the long jump. He turned in a mark of 52-4 to finish third behind the dramatic efforts of Dendy and Robertson.
Tobin came back in the 5,000 meters later on Sunday to place third in that event with a time of 14:16.74. It was his first collegiate outdoor race at that distance and he moved into the top 10 in the school record books.
Every athlete who placed in the top three of an individual event will receive All-SEC distinction.
Other men's scorers were Holland Sherrer in the 800 (7th, 1:49.98), Robert Domanic in the 5,000 (7th, 14:24.13), the 4x100 relay (7th, 39.81), the 4x400 relay (6th, 3:08.66), Malcolm Davis in the high jump (5th, 6-9.75) and Nathan Loe in the hammer throw (7th, 201-7).
The NCAA East Preliminary is up next. The top 48 athletes in each individual event and top 24 relays from the East region will compete May 29-31 in Jacksonville, Florida, for the right to advance to the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon, June 11-14.
On winning his seventh SEC high jump title... "It meant a lot to me coming out and competing for my teammates. Coach said just do what I do best. And I came out and won."
On getting runner-up in the triple jump... "Dendy's a good jumper. I was leading through the finals until the sixth jump. He put one out there I tried to go get him, but unfortunately it wasn't good enough. Good competition, though."
On his career at Ole Miss... "It was wonderful. I've had a nice time at Ole Miss. They showed me much love and I appreciate it."
On his victory... "This is my second SEC championship. There's no greater honor. (Tennessee's Jake Blankenship, Arkansas' Andrew Irwin and Texas A&M's Chase Wolfle) are some of my greatest friends. It's great to jump with them. To win against those guys on this day, I can go home a happy man."
On winning his first SEC outdoor crown... "Winning a national championship is awesome; you can't ask for better. The SEC Championships has more of a home feel to it. You're jumping against guys in your own conference that you see every meet. And you're competing strictly for your school with your whole team out here. There's no bigger championships where you can look in the stands and see your distance teammates, your long jump teammates and even Ricky doing the triple and high jump at the same time."
On the team's success on Sunday... "You can't ask any more from those guys on this day. We've been working hard all year. I've been there with them every step of the way. Every early morning. Every late afternoon. These guys deserve it."
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