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March 9, 2009

Tech men run and vault their way to second at ACC indoor meet; injuries prevent three-peat for women's squad

By: Jimmy Robertson

Adam Witt aided Tech’s cause by easily winning the 800-meter run.

Walking out of Rector Field House following the 2009 ACC Indoor Track and Field Championships, Dave Cianelli could have felt disappointment over the performance of Tech’s battered women’s team or glee at the Hokies’ surprising finish on the men’s side.
He took the glass half full approach.

“It was a phenomenal meet from top to bottom,” Tech’s director of track and field said. “We had nine individual ACC champions and the men getting second is incredible.

“The women, considering who we had healthy, did the best they could do. We were just too nicked up with injuries and didn't have the depth. When we get to outdoors, hopefully we will be at full strength and make another run at an ACC title.”

After finishing ninth at last year’s indoor meet and sixth two years ago, the Tech men stunned the league by racing to a second-place finish. They used a combination of the ever steady and consistently great performances from the vaulters and throwers and the surprising running by the distance runners and sprinters to rack up 98.5 points – their best performance since leaving the Atlantic 10 Conference. Florida State took home the men’s team title with 125 points.

“We did a lot more than people expected us to do,” Tech senior Billy Berlin said. “We’ve got a real young sprint team and our distance runners are young. The vaulters are always consistent. They’re awesome and the same with the throwers. But the distance team and the sprints were the question marks and we really came through.”

Berlin played a large role in that, winning his first ACC title on the final day of the meet. The Midlothian, Va., native won the mile run in 4:03.69, holding off Florida State’s Dan Roberts by a hundredth of a second in the closest finish of the meet.

“All I wanted to do was win,” he said. “I have been thinking about it for weeks. It feels phenomenal. It is everything I thought it would be. It brought my parents to tears and almost brought me to tears.”

Another distance runner, Ryan Witt, added to the Hokies’ point total on the final day. Witt, a sophomore from Winchester, Va., simply dusted the field in the 800-meter run in a career-best time of 1:50.74. He was second going into the final lap, but he blew past UNC’s Adam Smith with 200 meters left and won by two seconds.

“It was a fast time,” he said. “I expected it to be a slower race. I thought it would be a sit-and-kick finals. But they went out hard and I hung with them the whole way. I never gave up.”

As expected, the Tech men dominated the pole vault competition and the weight throw. Yavgeniy Olhovsky tied the ACC record in the pole vault with a mark of 18 feet, 0.5 inch to win the event, with Tech’s Hunter Hall finishing second and Jared Jodon finishing tied for third. They accounted for 23.5 of Tech’s 98.5 points.

In the weight throw, Tech sophomore Marcel Lomnicky shocked the field by winning, with the Hokies’ Matej Muza coming in second. Lomnicky, a Croatia native, just enrolled at Tech for the spring semester and only started competing in the weight throw two weeks ago, but tossed it 68 feet, 7 inches to win the crown. He shattered his personal best by five inches.

“The hammer throw [an outdoor event] is my specialty,” Lomnicky said. “I have pretty good technique in hammer throw, which is very similar to [the weight throw]. Maybe that’s why I’ve picked up the weight throw so quickly.

“I want to be better. I’m glad I won, but I wanted to throw over 22 meters, so maybe the NCAAs will be good for me.”

The Hokies also got points from others. Nick Vaughn and Keith Ricks finished fifth and sixth, respectively, in the 200-meter dash; Igor Misljenovic came in fifth in the shot put; Hasheem Halim was third in the triple jump; and Paul LaPenna and William Mulherin finished fourth and seventh, respectively, in the 3,000-meter run.

The Tech women’s team had some dominating performances as well, but the Hokies saw their overall reign of dominance – they had won back-to-back ACC indoor titles – come to an end more because of injuries than the competition.

The queen of the women’s team – Olympian Queen Harrison – did not participate in the meet because of a hamstring injury and her loss almost certainly cost Tech points in the 60-meter hurdles and the 400. After all, she had already qualified for the NCAA indoor meet in the 60 hurdles.

“It was hard not to have both of us of out there at the same time,” Tech’s Kristi Castlin said. “She’s such a big contributor to our team. We give each other confidence and help each other stay calm and relaxed. It hurt that she couldn’t run, but I feel better knowing that she didn’t run just for the safety of her leg. Everybody loves indoor, but outdoor is the big thing. She’ll be ready.”

Harrison wasn’t the only one out. The Tech women’s team also missed Tasmin Fanning, the talented distance runner who sat out with a foot injury. Fanning was the defending ACC indoor champion in the 3,000 meters and finished third at the NCAAs Cross Country Championships back in the fall.

Even without those two, the Tech women still finished in fourth place with 83.33 points behind Florida State, North Carolina and Clemson. Like the men, they dominated in the pole vault and in distance running, while also getting a couple of great performances from two sprinters.

Yavgeniy Olhovsky

Castlin handled things in her specialty, winning the women’s 60-meter hurdles for the first time in her career. The junior from Douglasville, Ga., finished with a time of 8.03 seconds, which tied an ACC record.

It was a sweet victory for Castlin, who finished second in this event in each of the past two ACC Indoor Championships and who also finished second at the NCAA Indoor Championships last year.

“Finally. I was second two years in a row,” said Castlin, who has qualified for the NCAAs in the event. “Throughout the season, and the meets in the past that we’ve had, I’ve been trying to work on technique, form, different things like that. I really haven’t been concentrating on just running fast. This weekend, I just let everything out that I had learned throughout the season. I just let it all hang out and I’m just having fun.”

Another sprinter, Asia Washington, pulled off the surprise of the meet for the Tech women, winning the 400-meter run. Washington, a junior from Piscataway, N.J., normally specializes in longer distances, but recently switched to the 400 – one of Harrison’s specialties. Running the event for just the third time, Washington finished with a time of 54.18 seconds for her first ACC individual crown.

“We knew one of our teammates was down,” Washington said. “I told her and I told my coaches that I would go out there and make a difference and I did that.”

Tech also got a huge weekend out of distance runner Natalie Sherbak, who won the 5,000-meter run and finished second in the 3,000. Sherbak, a senior from Virginia Beach, pulled away from a group of three other runners with about four laps to go and cruised to victory in the 5,000, winning in a time of 16:23.51. She finished second in the 3,000 behind UNC’s Brie Felnagle in 9:29.61.

And like the Tech men, the women dominated in the pole vault and weight throw events. In the pole vault, freshman Abby Schaffer stepped up with a first-place effort. The Easton, Pa., native vaulted 13 feet, 5.25 inches to capture the gold medal. Sophomore Kelly Phillips cleared her season-best of 13 feet, 1.5 inches to tie for second.

Sophomore Dorotea Habazin took first place in the weight throw for the Hokies. The Zagreb, Croatia native set a personal record for the fourth consecutive meet with a toss of 64 feet, 2.5 inches to win her first indoor conference crown.

Other strong performances for the women came from Erika Schroeder, who finished fifth in the shot put, and Ogechi Nwaneri, who was third in the 60-meter dash and eighth in the 200.

Several members of Tech’s track and field teams have qualified for the NCAA Championships, either provisionally or automatically, and will be participating in that meet on March 13-14 in College Station, Texas. The Tech women tied for 10th at the NCAA indoor meet a year ago, the best finish in school history.


Billy Berlin (mile run, 4:03.69)
Ryan Witt (800, 1:50.74)
Marcel Lomnicky (weight throw, 68 feet, 7 inches)
Yavgeniy Olhovsky (pole vault, 18 feet, .5 inch)

Kristi Castlin (60 hurdles, 8.03)
Asia Washington (400, 54.18)
Abby Schaffer (pole vault, 13 feet, 5.25 inches)
Dorotea Habazin (weight throw, 64 feet, 2.5 inches)
Natalie Sherbak (5,000, 16:23.51)