Let us hope better days are out there somewhere for Tennessee track and field. To put it gently, the Volunteers did not make much impact at the NCAA outdoor nationals in Austin, Texas.
Eighteen athletes represented Tennessee. Two women and three men picked up points. The women performed better than the men. Jacious Sears and Charisma Taylor combined for 19 points, enough to share 10th place with Georgia in team standings.
Sears doubled in the sprints. She ran third in the 100 and fourth in the 200. Taylor closed out her collegiate career with fourth place in the triple jump and sixth in the long jump.
The men scored 11 points, just good enough to slip into a three-way tie for 22nd place.
You see that Tennessee did not win an event.
With the exception of Sears, our internationals performed a bit better than our Americans. Jacious is from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Charisma is from Nassau, Bahamas.
Bynum is from Memphis. Griffith is from Bridgetown, Barbados. Brown is from Cayman Islands via Milligan College and North Carolina A&T.
Several Vols posted personal bests without being close to winning. Tennessee wasn’t in contention in such main events as the men’s 100, the relays or 1,500 run. The Vols were 18th in the semifinals of the 4×400 relay.
Once upon a time, Tennessee won an occasional NCAA event. The Volunteers even won national team titles in 1974, 1991 and 2001. Stan Huntsman, Doug Brown and Bill Webb were the successful coaches.
Back in 1981, when Terry Hull Crawford was women’s coach and the competition was AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) instead of the NCAA, Lady Vols won.
The decline of track and field is a story for another day.
This time, Florida repeated as men’s champion with 57 points, four ahead of SEC rival Arkansas. Stanford, with 44 points, took third place. This was the fifth title for the Gators in the last 10 years.
Texas women won in a runaway on their home track, scoring 83 points. They clinched the prize with three events to go. Florida was second with 51. Arkansas finished third with 46.
The NCAAs were the end of the collegiate season and the debut campaign for new Tennessee coaches Duane Ross and Sean Carlson. There are reasons to believe things will get better when they have time to recruit more athletes and have time to develop what they have.
Before he came to Tennessee, Ross was national coach of the year while at North Carolina A&T. Carlson was regarded as one of the top distance coaches in the country.
Dr. Danny White paid to replace Beth Alford-Sullivan with Ross. A coach to specialize in cross-country and distance races on the track is a new strategy for the Vols.
Something Ross said a year ago about Muhammad Ali made an impression. He qualified it by saying what Ali said might have been big talk at the time.
It was “Before I was the greatest, I said I was the greatest.”
Ross said that is the mindset he will try to instill in athletes.
“Let’s speak it, and then let’s go make it happen.”
Something the athletics director at North Carolina A&T struck with me, too.
“Coach Ross has the ability to look at a student-athlete and see the potential, the untapped, undeveloped potential, that exists there,” said Earl Hilton. “He has made a career out of refining those young people, honing, shaping them into elite – and at this point, we’re talking about – world-class athletes.”
Not yet has it happened but maybe …
If it matters, this team set 15 school records, won 22 SEC medals and had some other good things happen.
I hope Tennessee never awards participation trophies but there is reason to celebrate anybody who does anything at the NCAA nationals.
Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is email@example.com.