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March 20, 2013

Tech goes the distance at ACC indoor meet

By: Jimmy Robertson

Paced by strong performances from the distance runners and the usual steady play of the throwers, the Tech men’s track and field team won the ACC Indoor Championships – and now holds the men’s crown in all three league track and field and cross country championships

Tihut Degfae’s surprising win in the 800 was one of many outstanding performances for Tech at the ACC Indoor Track and Field Championships

Given the moment, and all that he had accomplished throughout an undeniably great career at Tech, Will Mulherin understandably took a victory lap following his final ACC event.

And as he ran around to the final turn before the start-finish line, a large contingent of Tech fans gave him an ear-splitting ovation for what had just transpired.

Mulherin’s victory in the 3,000-meter run propelled the Tech men’s track and field team to the team title at the ACC Indoor Track and Field Championships held Feb. 21-23 at Rector Field House on the Hokies’ campus. The Hokies finished with 153 points, beating Florida State, who accumulated 135.

The victory marked Tech’s eighth in track and field and cross country since joining the ACC title. Tech’s victory also means that the men’s program now holds all three ACC championship titles in track and field and cross country. Last spring, the Hokies won the ACC’s outdoor meet, and this past fall, behind Mulherin, the Hokies won the ACC’s cross country title.

“To win three in a row in our conference is very rare, even though it was two separate years,” Tech’s director of track and field and cross country Dave Cianelli said. “To win three championships in a row in the ACC hasn’t happened that often (once since 1986, Florida State in 2009-10). It’s a credit to these coaches and athletes really putting it together and wanting to do something like this.”

Mulherin finished things for the Hokies in a meet that nearly came down to the end. He edged Florida State’s Jakub Zivec to win the 3,000 with a time of 8:04.39. He beat Zivec by just over two-tenths of a second.

“I was coming around the (final) turn and I could feel someone on my shoulder, and I just gave it all I had,” Mulherin said. “I know that turn better than anyone, so if I could hold him (Zivec) off at the turn, then I could slingshot into the finish line.

“I don’t think there’s a better way to go out.”

The distance runners, as a group, came up large for the Hokies. Thomas Curtin pulled off a huge win in the 5,000-meter run, setting a school record with a time of 14:01.65 and beating the mark of 14:02.00 set by Tim Covington in 1989. Michael Hammond finished second in the mile. The distance medley relay team of Mulherin, Grant Pollock, Martin Dally and Eric Hoepker brought home gold, and Tihut Degfae pulled out a stunning win in the 800.

A year ago, Degfae redshirted during the indoor season, and two years ago, he failed to make it to the finals of the 800-meter run. But this year, he edged out Georgia Tech’s Shawn Roberts by one one-thousandth of a second.

“That was really the story of the meet – the unexpected scorers getting those important points that really made a difference,” cross country and distance coach Ben Thomas said. “Two years ago, Tihut was the favorite, but he didn’t make it to the finals. He really handled his business well here. He made the final and won the final. On paper, he’s the fourth- or fifth-best guy in the field, but it’s a good thing they run the races on rubber, so to speak.”

The Hokies also picked up critical wins from seniors Alexander Ziegler, Jeff Artis-Gray and Stephan Munz.

Ziegler, like Mulherin, was competing in his final ACC meet – neither has outdoor eligibility remaining – and he led a sweep for the Hokies in the weight throw. He broke the ACC Championship record with a heave of 77 feet, 8.75 inches (23.69 meters) – on his first attempt. Freshman Tomas Kruzliak came in second and senior Denis Mahmic finished third.

In the long jump, Artis-Gray only jumped twice in the finals. But his mark of 25 feet, 10 inches (7.87 meters) broke the school record by more than seven inches. In fact, the record, formerly held by Ken Stewart, had stood since 1984.

Munz got off to a slow start, but the German rebounded to vault past the competition. He converted on his second attempt at 17 feet, 9 inches (5.41 meters) and beat Florida State’s Andrew LaHaye by a tenth of a meter.

In the end, the Hokies needed points from everyone up and down the lineup – and they got them.

“I’d compare it to basketball when you shoot 75 percent from the field or in football when you complete 100 percent of your passes,” Cianelli said. “Those things are just rare, and they’re rare for us when you hit on everything – and we had to. We had to hit on just about everything to pull it out.”

On the women’s side, the Hokies finished ninth with 36 points. Clemson won with 141.5 points.

Martina Schultze was the Hokies’ lone winner. The sophomore from Germany won the pole vault, setting the school record with a vault of 14 feet, 7.25 inches (4.45 meters). The vault was both an ACC Championship meet record and a European Indoor Championships qualifying standard.

Ziegler wins another NCAA title

Tech’s Alexander Ziegler led the men’s team to a ninth-place finish at the NCAA meet after winning the weight throw for his third national title.

Virginia Tech’s Alexander Ziegler closed his career in perfect fashion, winning a national championship in the weight throw at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships held March 7-9 in Fayetteville, Ark.

The individual title marked Ziegler’s third and the track and field program’s 13th. The senior from Dischingen, Germany, had won hammer throw national titles the past two years during the outdoor season.

Ziegler, who does not have outdoor season eligibility remaining, won the weight throw with his third throw, a mark of 73 feet, 8.25 inches (22.46 meters) that stood pat through the final three rounds.

“Coming into this meet with a huge PR (personal record) at ACCs (73 feet, 8.75 inches) and a huge lead on the NCAA list, at the end of the day, all I could do was screw up, so I’m glad it worked out,” Ziegler said.

Ziegler’s win capped another fine performance by the Tech men’s track and field program. The Hokies finished in the top 10 nationally for the second straight year, coming in tied for ninth.

“It’s tough enough to just get to this meet, but to then finish in the top eight is that much tougher,” Tech director of track and field and cross country Dave Cianelli said. “For the men finishing in the top 10, it was a great job.”

Other strong performances for the Tech men came from Ronnie Black, Jeff Artis-Gray and Will Mulherin. Black finished fourth in the high jump after setting a school record with a jump of 7 feet, 5 inches. Mulherin came in seventh in the 3,000-meter run with a time of 7:55.08. Artis-Gray finished seventh in the long jump with a mark of 25 feet, 6.25 inches (7.78 meters) on just one scored jump.

On the women’s side, Martina Schultze finished third in the pole vault. Her top vault was 4.40 meters, or 14 feet, 5.25 inches. Schultze, who earned All-America honors, was Tech’s only female competitor in the event.