March 13, 2010

By Rob Keys, Special to

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - After the first day of the NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships, No. 1 Florida is right where it wants to be - in second place.

The Gators put up 20 points through six events on Friday night, and trail No. 8 Arkansas by four, but coach Mike Holloway said he was leaving the Randal Tyson Track Center a happy man.

"It was pretty much according to script," Holloway said.

No. 9 Florida State is third with 14 points, followed by No. 4 Arizona State with 12 points. Five teams - No. 3 Texas A&M, No. 19 Northern Arizona, No. 2 Oregon and Washington are tied for fifth with 10 points.

Despite being overshadowed by Arizona State's Ryan Whiting, who won his third indoor national championship - and fourth overall - in the shot put with a throw of 70 feet, 7 ¼ inches, Florida got started with Kemal Mesic's second-place finish. Christian Taylor kept the momentum going with a second-place showing of his own in the long jump.

By the end of the night, Calvin Smith and Tony McQuay had added a combined four points in the 200 meter dash, and the Gators had added a host of qualifiers for Saturday.

"We talked about it coming in as a staff and the goal was to get 18 to 22 points, and we got 20," Holloway said. "The other goal was to qualify about eight athletes for (Saturday) and we got that done also.

"I mean, we're batting a thousand at this point. We had an unbelievable day."

The host Razorbacks got off to a hot start, too, getting a national championship out of Alain Bailey and a third-place finish out of fellow Jamaican Tarik Batchelor in the long jump. At that point, that was good enough to give Arkansas an early tie for the lead with Florida.

Bailey, a senior, claimed his first national title by jumping 26-9 ¾ after finishing last in the event last year.

"It feels great," Bailey said. "I've been waiting four years for this. I'm ecstatic right now."

Arkansas coach Chris Bucknam was happy at the point in the meet, too.

"That was the event we were worrying about," he said. "We needed to get some momentum and get off on the right foot.

"Those guys have been coming through just at the right time. It was just a great effort by Alain and Tarik."

Arkansas had hoped to add points in the 5,000, but Southeastern Conference champion Scott MacPherson failed to score. That set up a dramatic distance medley relay, which Oregon stole from Arkansas near the finish line, when Andrew Wheating tracked down Dorian Ulrey.

Still, Bucknam remained hopeful the Razorbacks can remain in contention.

"It was a good day overall. ... We wanted 26 points and we got 24," Bucknam said.

But it was Florida who felt best while also getting two points less than its best-case scenario.

"We're very, very pleased with the focus and effort of our men," Holloway said.

Among the women, No. 12 Auburn grabbed the first-day lead with 18 points after six events, but UTEP's Blessing Okagbare was responsible for the biggest highlight. The bronze medalist in the long jump at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Okagbare set NCAA records on consecutive jumps en route to her first national championship. She won the event with a jump of 22-6 ½.

Defending champ and No. 5 Tennessee is in second place with 16 points. No. 17 Arizona (15 ½ points), No. 1 Oregon (13) and No. 8 Penn State (11) round out the top five.

Final-day action begins at 11 a.m. Central on Saturday.