(UTSports.com) -- The third-ranked Tennessee men’s track and field team begins the championship section of the indoor season this weekend as it travels to Fayetteville, Ark., for the SEC Indoor Championships. The Vols are expected to be in a close race with Arkansas, Florida and LSU for the team title.
“We had a strong performance last year (at the SEC Indoor Championships),” head coach Bill Webb said. “We only finished 11.5 points out of first place. We will have to be hitting on all cylinders to take the team title this year. Arkansas is the favorite at home, and I think other strong contenders for the team title will be LSU and Florida. This year’s conference meet will be more competitive than it has ever been because Kentucky and Georgia have improved.”
Tennessee leads the conference with 18 indoor titles and 68 overall conference championships, 24 more than the nearest competitor. Tennessee finished second at the SEC Indoor Championships last year before winning the school’s conference-leading 25th SEC outdoor title. The Vols finished third in 2005, the last time the conference indoor meet was held at the Randal Tyson Track Center.
Team captain Michael Hogue is chasing a three-peat of historical proportions in the pole vault this weekend. The two-time All-America looks to become just the second SEC athlete ever to win three consecutive conference indoor titles in the pole vault. The only other athlete to accomplish the feat is Florida’s Will Freeman, who won his titles from 1974-76. Tennessee has had seven athletes record an SEC indoor three-peat in their respective event, more than any other school in the conference, with the last one coming courtesy of José Parrilla in the 800 from 1992-94.
All-Americas Rubin Williams and Jangy Addy, as well as Tennessee’s distance medley relay, also look to defend their individual conference championships earned last year. Williams, a four-time SEC champion, won his first 200-meter conference title with a personal-best clocking of 20.57 seconds last year before finishing second in the event at the NCAA Indoor Championships and being named South Region Track Athlete of the Year by the US Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. Addy, who was voted a team captain for the second straight year earlier this season, claimed his first SEC crown with a personal-best 5,688-point performance in the heptathlon that led a 1-2 Tennessee finish. UT’s distance medley relay team won the conference title in the event for the first time since 1996 before breaking the school record one week later.
In addition to Williams, senior Matthieu Pritchett and sophomores Kyle Stevenson and Evander Wells make the Vols’ sprint corps the deepest in the conference. Williams leads the NCAA and ranks second in the world this season in the 200 with his 20.66 clocking, while Wells ranks second in the conference and fifth in the NCAA in the 200 with his 21.00 time. The All-America duo is also tied for third in the SEC and fifth in the nation in the 60 with their identical 6.64 times. Pritchett ranks seventh in the conference with his 6.70 60 time. Stevenson finished fifth in the 60 at last year’s SEC Indoor Championships. All four Tennessee sprinters scored in the 60 at last year’s conference championships for the first time in school history and are entered in both the 60 and 200 this year.
Addy leads the NCAA with his 7.67 time in the 60 hurdles, an event he finished third in last year. He is joined in the 60 hurdles by sophomore De’Lon Isom, who ranks seventh in the conference this season, senior Kris Fant and freshman Charlton Rolle. Rolle also stands as Tennessee’s lone representative in the long jump after setting personal-best marks in both events last weekend. Freshman Michael Ayers, who enters with the second-best heptathlon score in the SEC, and junior Brad Holtz, a converted pole vaulter, join Addy in the heptathlon.
Outdoor All-America Yarrick Kincaid and NCAA provisional-qualifier Andrew Dawson lead Tennessee’s middle distance group. Dawson currently ranks fourth in the SEC in the 800 with his provisional-qualifying time of 1:50.12. Kincaid placed fifth in the event last year after battling the flu, and Dawson finished sixth. Fellow senior Paul Cross, the 2004 SEC outdoor 800 champion, and freshman Axel Mostrag also are entered in the 800.
Hogue is joined in the pole vault by Ayers, freshman Joseph Berry and Holtz. Holtz finished fifth in the event at last year’s SEC Outdoor Championships, and enters the indoor championships with the fourth-highest clearance in the conference this season. Junior Akeem Hardnett is the only Vol entered in the triple jump after earning runner-up honors in the event last year. Juniors Nick Panezich and Richard Wooten are entered in the shot put and weight throw. Wooten, who finished fourth in the weight throw at last year’s SEC Indoor Championships, boasts a personal-best throw of 62-11 1/2 that ranks fifth on Tennessee’s all-time performance list and sixth in the SEC this year. Panezich leads the Vols in the shot put after his indoor personal-best mark of 56-8 3/4 last week placed him ninth on this year’s SEC list. Sophomore Brenard Wilson contests the high jump after tying for sixth in the event last season.
Senior Chris Platt, who holds Tennessee’s freshman record and the Tom Black Track record in the 3,000, lowered his personal-best time in the event to 8:14.34 earlier this season and is the only Vol entered in the 3,000. Sophomores Samdi Fraser and Nathan Grace represent the Vols in the 400. Both sprinters helped Tennessee’s 4x400 relay team advance to the NCAA Outdoor Championships last season. Senior Matt Piccarello and junior Andrew Press line up for the Vols in the 5,000.
“You just don’t know how the points will break down,” Webb said. “Anybody can look at a form chart or top times and see how everyone looks on paper, but that’s why we run the race. If we have some luck and some breaks go our way, we could be right in the thick of things.”
Tennessee has finished as the top Eastern Division team at the SEC Indoor Championships eight times since the conference began using the current 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 scoring format, including an overall title in 1996. The last time Tennessee competed in Fayetteville, the Vols scored 21 points to tie for 10th at last year’s NCAA Indoor Championships.
The conference championship meet begins Friday at 4 p.m. Eastern Time and concludes Sunday with the 4x400 relay at 5 p.m. Live results will be available throughout the championships at UTsports.com.