EUGENE, Ore. - Ole Miss junior Sam Kendricks won his second straight NCAA outdoor pole vault on Wednesday, but it wasn't easy.
Kendricks had a couple of clutch clearances late in the competition to overcome Akron's Shawn Barber on the first day of the 2014 NCAA Outdoor Championships in front of 9,165 enthusiastic fans at historic Hayward Field in Track Town USA.
A native of Oxford, Mississippi, Kendricks becomes the first back-to-back NCAA outdoor champion for the Rebels since Savante' Stringfellow won long jump titles in 2000 and 2001. He's the first back-to-back NCAA outdoor pole vault champ since Oregon's Tommy Skipper in 2006 and 2007.
Barber and Tennessee's Jake Blankeship were the leaders through 18-2.5, which was the last height that Blankenship cleared. Kendricks came through in a big way on his third and final attempt at 18-4.5 when he brushed the bar, but it held steady. Then Barber cleared 18-6.5 and Kendricks missed, setting up a fantastic finale that saw Kendricks jump up to 18-8.25, which Barber couldn't match.
"The reward for me came from all the guys I jumped against today," Kendricks said afterward. "Those guys have worked hard their whole lives, just like I have. And they wanted me to make that bar as much as they wanted to make it themselves. So it was very rewarding to know they worked their hardest and I came out on top among friends. And that's what made it a lot of fun."
It was another great duel between the top American collegian (Kendricks) and the top Canadian collegian (Barber). Barber won the duel at this year's NCAA Indoor Championships when he set a Canadian national record, while Kendricks was second with the same height that he cleared to win on Wednesday.
Ole Miss also competed in the 4x100 meter relay semifinals on Wednesday and placed 20th in 40.05 to end its season. The school-record holding quartet of Mike Granger, Jalen Miller, Creighton Serrette and Kailo Moore were in the top three for most of their race (top two in each heat advanced to the final), but couldn't finish it out among a very fast field of teams.
"What a day," head coach Brian O'Neal said. "Great job by Sam. During our team meeting last night, we talked about the things we needed to do this week to be successful. We reminded the team that what makes the NCAA Championships special is everyone will be at their best. Each competitor has worked hard all season long and it comes down to the athlete that can focus on the task at hand, and Sam did just that.
"I can't say enough about how proud we are of Sam. It's great to see the bond that he shares with Coach Kendricks and the confidence they have in each other. Each week we've asked Sam to go out and provide a spark for this team. Week in and week out that's exactly what he's done. That was 10 big points for us. Now we have to continue to build on this as we move on to day two tomorrow and another opportunity for us to advance."
Ole Miss gets 10 team points for Kendricks' victory, which has them in third place overall after day one of four.
"Knowing that my team's eyes are on me wherever they may be in the country gives me an edge," Kendricks added. "Knowing that there are eight other athletes form Ole Miss here as well, that makes it special."
Next up for the Rebels is junior Robert Semien in the 110-meter hurdle semifinals on Thursday. Junior Phillip Young will compete in the triple jump on Saturday.
4x100 Meter Relay Semifinals 20. Ole Miss (Granger, Miller, Serrette, Moore) - 40.05
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