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March 16, 2010

THIRD IS THE SPOT FOR TECH - Both the Tech men and women finish in third at the ACC Indoor Track and Field Championships

By: Jimmy Robertson

Hunter Hall captured his first ACC championship when he won the pole vault title by vaulting a career-best 17 feet, 8.5 inches.

As the ACC Indoor Track and Field Championships neared a conclusion, one could practically see Dave Cianelli, the overseer of Virginia Tech’s track and field programs, running the numbers through his head.

He knew things were breaking the Hokies’ way on the men’s side. His throwers finished first and second in the weight throw. His pole vaulters swept the top three spots. His jumpers provided some much-needed points. He got that surprise victory – in the mile – that he needed. And one of his top distance runners pulled out a victory in the 3,000-meter race.

But a referee’s decision jumbled the numbers, and in the end, the digits did not add up, as the Tech men’s team finished third with 97 points. Florida State continued its stranglehold on the league, winning the indoor title for the eighth straight time with 107 points. North Carolina finished second with 103.5.

The call in question came in the 3,000-meter race and centered on Will Mulherin, a sophomore from Yorktown, Va. Finding himself behind three other runners, Mulherin rallied on the final lap, sprinting past everyone and claiming what he thought would be gold.

But a referee ruled that Mulherin pushed Florida State’s Matthew Leeder as they entered the final lap, causing Leeder to break stride. As a result, the referee disqualified Mulherin’s victory – and thus nullified the Hokies’ 10 team points. John Martinez of N.C. State won the race, with Leeder being awarded second place and getting eight team points for the Seminoles.

Had Mulherin’s victory stood, the Hokies would have won with 107 points over Florida State with 105.

After the race and the ruling, Cianelli pleaded his case with meet officials. Both he and Mulherin thought Leeder tried to cut in front of Mulherin without enough room and that Mulherin stuck his hand out to avoid falling. But the argument came to no avail.

After the meet, Cianelli, to his credit, took a diplomatic approach.

Competing in his first ACC meet, freshman Alexander Ziegler surprised everyone by winning the weight throw with a toss of 73 feet, 10.25 inches.

“I’m not sitting here saying, ‘If this, we win the meet,’” Cianelli said. “You can do that all day long. There were plenty of other events where I felt like we left points on the table. So you can’t just say this one thing cost us the meet. In a meet like this, you have to earn everything. No one is going to give you anything. You can’t say, ‘Oh well, someone took this from me’ because that’s not the way it is.”

The ruling shouldn’t deter from what turned out to be a fine meet for a pair of young men’s and women’s teams.

On the men’s side, Tech’s trio of Hunter Hall, Jared Jodon and Yavgeniy Olhovsky claimed the top three spots in the pole vault. Hall, a junior, took first, clearing a career-best 17 feet, 8.5 inches. The vault gave Hall his first ACC championship.

Two other men’s athletes won events. On the second day of the meet, freshman thrower Alexander Ziegler surprised everyone with a victory in the weight throw, beating teammate Marcel Lomnicky, the ACC champion in the event last season. Ziegler threw a personal-best 73 feet, 10.25 inches.

“I’m happy,” said Ziegler, a native of Germany. “That’s my third PR [personal record] in the third meet and that’s pretty good. I think I can still throw farther. I lost the technique in the end. I got a little too greedy and wanted it too much. I need to refocus and correct my mistakes. If I do that, I’ll be fine.”

Also, Michael Hammond, a sophomore from Midlothian, Va., surprised everyone with a victory in the mile run. He rallied to edge North Carolina’s Adam Cunningham by less than two-tenths of a second, finishing in a time of 4 minutes, 10.36 seconds.

“I was a little boxed in and it was scary for a minute,” Hammond said. “There were some elbows thrown. Once I got around them, I could see that he [Cunningham] was trying to run away with it. I said, ‘No way. I didn’t come this far for second place.’ So I dug real, real deep and was able to get the win.

“It wasn’t a PR or anything, but time was irrelevant. It was all about winning.”

Tech’s jumpers added some points to the men’s cause, with Hasheem Halim and football standout David Wilson finishing second and fourth, respectively, in the triple jump. Halim, a sophomore from Lilburn, Ga., set a school record with a leap of 52 feet, 8.25 inches.

“On the fifth jump, the Virginia guy [Marcus Robinson] beat me by a centimeter,” Halim said. “So for the last jump, I had to get the crowd into it and I started clapping. It came down to the last jump and I didn’t even know if I had enough energy because my quad was bothering me. As soon as I hit the sand, though, I knew it.”

Queen Harrison added to her list of impressive accomplishments by winning two events at the ACC indoor meet, taking first in the 60-meter hurdles and first in the 400-meter dash.

On the women’s side, the Hokies, led by Queen Harrison, finished in third place with 74 points. Clemson won the meet with 145.5 points, followed by Florida State with 93.

Harrison, a senior from Richmond, Va., won two events – the 60-meter hurdles and the 400-meter dash – in her final ACC indoor meet.

In the 60 hurdles, she set an ACC record and tied the Rector Field House record with a mark of 7.94 seconds, beating teammate Kristi Castlin, who won the event last year (Harrison was injured). Harrison held the previous ACC record of 7.99 seconds, which she set in qualifying. Melissa Morrison, running for the South Carolina Elite program, ran a 7.94 in 1999.

Harrison’s 60 time currently ranks as the best in the country and seventh in the world.

“I knew I wanted to run faster than a 7.96, but I didn’t really have a number in mind,” Harrison said. “As I was walking into the field house, I walked by where they had the Rector Field House records and I just touched the 7.94 and thought maybe today would be the day. Other than that, I didn’t have any other expectations. I just really wanted to come out and run my best.”

Roughly 20 minutes after her victory in the 60 hurdles, she took to the track for the finals of the 400. She finished with a winning time of 53.06 seconds.

“This is the first year she’s been healthy and been able to train consistently since her freshman year,” Cianelli said. “Obviously, the talent has always been there. But I feel like this year she’s doing some of the little things that maybe she didn’t do in the past to maintain her health and that’s paid off. You can see it in her performances.”

“I am,” she said when asked if she was running the way she wanted. “I’m still working on my start every day in practice because that’s something I’ve been struggling with since I was a freshman. And I’ve been staying healthy. As long as I am healthy, I feel like I’m headed in the right direction.”

Speaking of injuries, the Tech men incurred a big one when Keith Ricks went down with a hamstring injury while qualifying for the 200. Ricks qualified for the finals of the 60-meter dash, but wasn’t able to participate and that probably cost the Hokies points on the men’s side as well. After all, if he had run his personal record of 6.65 in the 60 in the finals, he would have won the event.

And maybe the Hokies wouldn’t be thinking about that referee’s call.

“I told them in sports, just like in life, things are going to happen unexpectedly, whether you agree with them or not,” Cianelli said. “It’s going to happen and you have to live with it. Whether I or anyone else thought it was a good call or wasn’t a good call, we were going to have to live with it. We have to be better the next time so it doesn’t matter if something like that happens.

“To go 1, 2, 3, 5 in the pole vault is an amazing performance and a little unexpected. You can focus on those things. Or Mike Hammond’s mile, which was an incredible race. Those are the things we need to focus on and not say, ‘Oh, this happened and that’s why we didn’t win the meet.’ We put ourselves in a position to win the meet, which is the goal. We want to be contenders every time out.

“Now, the measure of the character of our team is how we react when we get to the outdoor meet. Do we take this performance and move on and get better? You can’t look behind. You’ve got to move on. There’s nothing we can do. So complaining about it and dwelling about it is just taking away from what we want to do in the future.”