Collective effort leads Virginia Tech to second ACC crown in three seasons
BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Virginia Tech's mile run set the pace early as the Hokies won their second ACC title in the past three years, both inside Rector Field House.
"They came in with the attitude that they wanted to win, and the seniors wanted to go out on top and everyone followed their lead," director of track and field Dave Cianelli said. "The senior leadership makes a huge difference, and we’ve got some great leaders. They set the tone for the rest of the group."
Fueled by Michael Hammond’s second-place finish at 4:06.40 in the mile, the Hokies grabbed four of the top eight spots as Ryan Hagen, Jason Cusack and George Carter were fifth, sixth and eighth, respectively, to build Tech’s lead to 38 points.
The most versatile man on the Hokies squad, fresh off of an ACC championship in the long jump on Friday, Jeff Artis-Gray added six points to his team’s total as he came in third in the 60 meter hurdles at 7.88.
It was Darrell Wesh and Tadashi Pinder’s time to step up next in the 60 meters as the two came in fourth and sixth to pick up critical points as the Seminoles closed the gap to 15 points after taking the top-two spots on the podium. For Wesh, he once again broke his own personal record, this time by four-hundredths of a second, the same amount that stands between his new mark and Keith Rick’s school record.
The 800 meters was expected to be a big event in the race for the men’s title and it proved to be just that. Both the Hokies and Seminoles each had a pair in the field, but it was Tech that came with the big scores. Tihut Degfae came on strong at the end to just barely edge out Shawn Roberts of Georgia Tech by one one-hundredth of a second to earn his first individual ACC championship. Kevin DeWillie was less than a second back of his teammate to claim fourth place as Florida State’s Darrin Gibson and Jake Burton finished seventh and eighth, respectively. It was a momentary turning point in the meet as the Hokies built their lead back up 27.
“I’ve always listened to my coach throughout the season, and right before the race, [coach Ben Thomas] said, ‘Make sure you’re the last person to kick',” Degfae said of his strategy. “Then I had one guy to catch, and I saw him tightening up, so I thought it was my chance to take the spot. It was really the perfect ending for me.”
Shortly thereafter, Tech won its second championship of the day as Stephan Munz did exactly what he did two years ago. Despite a hiccup at 17-1 (5.21m) in which he nearly faced elimination, Munz made his final attempt at the pole vault height and breezed through the next progression before converting on his second attempt at 17-9 (5.41m). Two years ago, he came into the ACC Championships in his first event of the season and won it, coincidently at the same mark he won it Saturday.
"My warm-ups were pretty bad, and I didn’t feel comfortable at all,” Munz said on his feeling going into the event. “But then I got into a rhythm, and the end result was outstanding. To win the ACC title here in Blacksburg, it’s just an amazing feeling."
The win though only caused a short-lived celebration as it didn’t take long for Florida State to mount it’s comeback as they finished 1-2 in the 200 meters and claimed second and fourth in the triple jump. The Hokie lead dwindled to three with two events remaining. A key performance in that stretch to maintain the lead was a school-record 200-meter performance for Jonathan McCants as he clocked in at 21.08.
With six runners in the 3,000 meters, Will Mulherin delivered 10 points for his team by holding off Florida State’s Jakub Zivec. Meanwhile, Leoule Degfae was just more than five seconds behind Mulherin as he captured fourth. Despite running in the first heat, Michael Hammond finished eighth overall to give Tech an 11-point lead with only one event remaining.
"I went with two laps to go and I felt great,” Mulherin said of his final lap. “I felt like I was relaxed and just sitting on people for most of the race, so I knew I was going to have something. I went with two laps to go, which was a little early, but I felt good. I was coming around the [final] turn and I could feel someone on my shoulder, and I just gave it all I had. I know that turn better than anyone, so if I could hold him off at the turn, then I could slingshot into the finish line. I’m just ecstatic about this win. This is something I really wanted."
Tech’s 4x400 relay team of Eric Hoepker, Artis-Gray, McCants and Pinder finished off the day by turning in the second-best time in school history in the event at 3:12.72. The Hokies ultimately won with 153 points, 17 clear of Florida State.