Lady Vols' Wortham wins SEC 400m hurdles

BATON ROUGE, La. (UT release) -- Tennessee claimed league titles in two events, finished second in one and grabbed third in another Sunday on the final day of the 2012 SEC Outdoor Track & Field Championships at LSU’s Bernie Moore Stadium.

Those finishes also came with historical or current significance. Annie Alexander claimed her second victory of the meet and a whopping eighth league title of her career, and Ellen Wortham broke a 28-year-old school record as a repeat winner. Chanelle Price led a UT scoring surge with a runner-up effort in the 800, and Matthew Hoty snapped his own UT freshman record while finishing third in the shot.

Those efforts contributed to the Lady Vols’ ability to tally 97 points and finish fifth, while the Vols wound up 10th with 30. LSU scored 161.50 points to win the women’s team race, while Arkansas took the men’s crown with 196.

Wortham was dominant in the women’s 400m hurdles, collecting her second-straight SEC victory with a sizzling readout of 55.55 seconds. Not only did it enable the senior to beat LSU’s Cassandra Tate (56.82) by more than a second, it enabled Wortham to replace 12-time All-American and 1984 Olympian Sharrieffa Barksdale (55.58) as the Lady Vol record-holder in that event with a time that ranks No. 2 in the NCAA this season.

“Ellen took down a very old school record from Sharrieffa Barksdale,” UT Director of Track & Field J.J. Clark said. “We knew she had the ability to do it. She looked the best we’ve ever seen her.”

“It feels really great (to be able to repeat),” Wortham said. “I came out here today, and I was confident in my strategy and confident in myself. It ended up turning out really well.

“It feels pretty good (breaking Barksdale’s record). I didn’t realize it until you just told me, because I was kind of delirious after the race. I am glad I could do that for my mom on Mother’s Day. I wasn’t worried about breaking any records, honestly, I was just going out there and running my race plan to the best of my ability. Thankfully it worked out that well.”

Alexander, meanwhile, followed up Saturday’s win in the shot with a triumph in the discus on Sunday. It didn’t take her long to to set the tone, uncorking a season-best mark of 186-3 on her first attempt that withstood stiff competition for the victory. Not only did she repeat as SEC discus champion, she completed a senior season sweep of SEC Indoor and Outdoor shot titles and the discus crown. It matched the trifecta she first accomplished as a rookie in 2008.

The final day triumph improved Alexander’s career total of SEC titles to eight, the most by any thrower in school history. With six outdoor SEC titles, she was won more individual events than any other Lady Vol besides Benita Fitzgerald (7). She also tied LSU’s Danyel Mitchell for the most SEC throws titles won by a woman at the league outdoor meet.

“Annie finishing up her SEC career with a victory, wins in the discus and shot this weekend, was outstanding,” Clark said. “She came here and got it done for us, and I’m very proud of her efforts.”

“It’s a great feeling (to repeat),” Alexander said. “I really wanted to go out there and, even if I can’t break a national record or school record, just get a season or personal best. It feels good to actually go out there and compete. The girls did well, so it was actually a great competition.

“It feels great to start out like that (season best on first throw). I was reflecting on last year, and this is when my discus picked up, so I feel really good to know that I come out this week and had a season best. I just look forward to greater things to come.”

Price, a senior, turned in a runner-up finish for Tennessee and led an 18-point Lady Vol spree in the 800 meters. Hoping to defend her 2011 SEC Outdoor title, Price set the tone for the first 720 meters but was unable to hold off LSU’s Charlene Lipsey down the home stretch, finishing second in a season-best 2:03.15. Junior Nijgia Snapp and sophomore Kianna Ruff contributed to the scoring splurge, running personal-best times of 2:03.88 and 2:04.85, respectively.

“The 800 was a big event for us, obviously,” Clark said. “Chanelle running 2:03 and PRs for Nijgia and Kianna. It was a big day, getting 18 points there.”

Redshirt freshman Matthew Hoty rediscovered the magic formula at just the right time to match his SEC Indoor finish in the men’s shot put with a third-place result outdoors. The 6-3, 300-pounder unloaded a blast of 60 feet, 10 inches to improve his UT freshman outdoor record in the event and deliver his squad six points. Fellow redshirt freshman Tavis Bailey nearly broke into the scoring column, winding up ninth at 51-5.

The Lady Vol 4x4 put a nice capper on a solid weekend for the sprint corps, nailing down a third-place finish in 3:33.85. The lineup of Wortham, Ruff, Snapp and Martinique Octave collaborated on what amounted to a 5 1/2-second season best as well as six points

After struggling to a 10th-place finish in her quest to repeat as SEC 1500m champion earlier in the day, senior Brittany Sheffey rebounded to take fourth in the 5000 meters. She covered the distance in 16:42.89 to collect five points for her squad.

Chase Brannon broke through for a fourth-place finish in the men’s pole vault. After finishing fifth last season, the sophomore recorded a career-best vault of 17-8 1/2 to earn five points for the Vols. That mark moved him to No. 10 on UT’s all-time performers list.

The UT women checked in fifth in the 4x100m relay, the first running event of the afternoon. The quartet of Ashley Harris, Brittany Jones, Octave and Kia Jackson moved the baton around the track in 44.79 to earn four points.

Jackson and Jones returned later to produce individual finishes of fifth and sixth, respectively, in the 100m dash. Jackson rolled to a career-best time of 11.45, while Jones matched her PR with a 11.47 count as both scored in the straight sprint for the first time.

Jones wasn’t done there. She finished the day by rolling to a fourth-place effort in the 200 meters, logging a wind-aided 23.15 effort.

Aslynn Halvorson and Bianca Blair also produced points behind Alexander and Wortham. Halvorson was fifth in the discus at 160-2, while Blair was seventh in the 400m hurdles at 1:01.27.

“In the 4x4, we ran the fastest time of the year by quite a bit in 3:33, Aslynn scoring fifth in the discus, and we have to keep building and getting into contention to score more,” Clark said. “The third and fourth places are very close, and we just have to start going for another victory.”

Terry Benson scored in SEC outdoor competition for the first time, snagging sixth place in the men’s 110m hurdles. He ran a time of 14.08 with a 2.7 meters-per-second wind at his back to add three points to the Big Orange ledger.

“Matt had a nice third-place finish in the shot put, Terry got us some points in the hurdles, and Chase finished fourth in the pole vault,” Clark said. “They’ll be back next year to help us in our scoring efforts as we go out and get this program where it needs to be.”

The Vols added a sixth-place finish in the men’s 4x100m relay, as the lineup of Reggie Juin, Jamol James, Jarael Nelvis and Arnez Hardnick circled the track in 40.47 in the first heat and moved up two spots due to faulty baton exchanges by Florida and LSU.

UT’s men just missed scoring in three other events. Benson was ninth in the 400m hurdles (52.71), the 4x400m relay was ninth in 3:15.04, and Tom Gilmartin placed 10th in the 5000m in a career-best 14:51.54.

“On the men’s side, it’s just a process,” Clark said. “We have a good amount of talent coming back next year, and we’re going to be more developed. I feel very positive about a few that are home redshirting, and they’ll come back next year and help us out.

“I’m very optimistic and very positive about the future on the men’s side, but we have to get after it on the recruiting trail.”


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