March 14, 2010

Rob Keys, Special to

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - At the end of the two-day gamut of ups and downs that is the Division I NCAA Indoor Track & Field National Championships, Florida coach Mike Holloway had a hard time thinking of anything that went wrong for the Gators.

"I don't know," Holloway said. "The worst thing that happened to me was that I had a stomachache for a couple of days."

There's no doubt Holloway left the Randal Tyson Track Center feeling better on Saturday night. That's because a near-flawless performance by the top-ranked Gators resulted in the school's first indoor national championship.

Florida had come close on, finishing second three times in Holloway's seven previous years as head coach.

"It's been a long journey and I'm just so proud of my staff, I'm so proud of my athletes and everybody associated with the program," Holloway said. "I'm almost at a loss for words, that's how happy I am.

"It's just an amazing feeling, an absolutely amazing feeling."

Florida began the day with 20 points, four behind host Arkansas, but had loads of chances to score and didn't waste time getting started. After No. 2 Oregon took the lead with 33 points behind a world-record performance in the heptathlon from Ashton Eaton and a solid showing in the mile, Florida picked up seven points in the 400-meter dash.

The Gators then took the lead on the strength of Jeff Demps' victory in the 60-meter dash. Jeremy Hall added a sixth-place finish in the event, boosting Florida's total to 40 points.

Christian Taylor kept Florida's momentum going, winning the triple jump, while teammate Omar Craddock placed seventh. That gave Florida 52 points, 18 more than second-place Texas A&M.

That was the first time Holloway allowed himself to think about what might be in the works.

"We kind of felt coming in that the first team to 50 would be the national champion, and after we got to 52 after the 60, we felt that we had a chance," Holloway said. "After the 3K we knew we were national champions, but we wanted to make sure until after the (4 x 400) relay before we started celebrating."

The celebration, at least the one before the official trophy presentation, consisted of a plethora of hugs and smiling faces. Many of the Gators sported T-shirts that read, "Finish The Mission," an apparent reference to last year's runner-up finish.

Florida finished with 57 points, while No. 3 Texas A&M and Oregon tied for second with 44. No. 5 LSU was fourth with 42 and No. 8 Arkansas fifth with 38.

"Actually I was trying to get to 62," Holloway said with a laugh. "I'm greedy, but I'll take 57."

As easy as Florida made their championship look, the Oregon women might have outdone them. The No. 1-ranked Ducks picked up their first national indoor title by piling up 61 points. Defending champ fourth-ranked Tennessee second with 36 points, followed by No. 3 LSU (35), No. 4 Florida (33) and No. 2 Texas A&M (31).

Oregon won without Coach Vin Lananna, who was forced to stay in Oregon for medical reasons. The Ducks also overcame a disappointing 13-point Friday night that left them five points behind leader Auburn.

"They're spirits were getting down," assistant coach Robert Johnson said, "and I was like, 'Look, you've got to stop that getting down and throwing a pity party. We're still in this thing. As long as you guys rally around each other, we can get this thing done.'"

Despite the late-night pep talk, Johnson was unsure if his message had its intended effect.

"I didn't feel so good after the meeting, but when I got to see them this morning their spirits were up," he said.

Brianne Theisen kept the good vibes going, winning the pentathlon and putting the Ducks ahead for good. Jordan Hasay and Anne Kesselring then ran fourth and sixth, respectively, in the mile to give Oregon 31 points.

Keshia Baker then gave the Ducks all the points they would need with a second-place finish in the 400-meter dash. Francena McCorory of Hampton won the event, setting an American record by finishing in 50.54 seconds. That eclipsed the 50.64 Diane Dixon ran in 1991.

The rest of the night, however, belonged to Oregon as it continued to accumulate points. The Ducks capped their championship showing with a victory in the 4 x 400 meter relay.

"We got things started off with the pentathlon, which was huge," Johnson said. "Then it just trickled down from there."