AKRON, Ohio - Led by four individual event titles and eight total medalists, the University of Louisville track and field program closed the first day of competition with the outright lead in the men's championship and in a first-place tie in the women's competition Saturday at the BIG EAST Indoor Championships at the University of Akron's Athletics Field House.
Leading the way for the Cards was the husband-and-wife duo of Arthur and Emily Turland, who swept the men's and women's weight throw competitions. Arthur, a senior from Kincardine, Ont., earned an NCAA provisional qualifying mark of 68 feet, 3.25 inches, to win his second straight BIG EAST indoor weight throw title, while Emily, a senior from New Albany, Ind., won the women's title with a school record and NCAA provisional qualifying mark of 66-00.50.
"This was a big performance by Emily Turland and it should give her a chance to be the first Louisville women's athlete to compete at the NCAA Indoor Championships," said UofL throws coach Dale Cowper. "Arthur did a nice job of backing up last week's 69-foot throw, and I feel like he's ready to throw 72 feet at any time. This is also big for Emily because she and ZeNai Savage will travel to the USA Indoor Championships next week and compete in arguably the most competitive women's weight throw event in the nation."
Overall, the Cardinal men, ranked ninth in the nation in this week's Trackwire Top 25 rankings, lead the way with 54 points, followed by Notre Dame in second with 39 points and Connecticut in third with 29 points. On the women's side, UofL is tied with Notre Dame in first with 26 points each, while Providence is third with 25 points, Georgetown in fourth with 24 points and Pittsburgh in fifth with 21 points.
"To be in the lead after the first of competition in both the men's and women's competitions says a great deal about the progress of our program over the last two years," said UofL head coach Ron Mann, in his third season with the Cards. "What I'm most pleased about is the way our kids are competing. We have so much enthusiasm and we've displayed a strong will to win and a commitment to do whatever it takes for this team to succeed."
In the final event of the day, Cardinal sophomore Tone Belt stayed unbeaten in the long jump in 2007 with a meet record, school record and automatic NCAA qualifying mark of 26-01.00, the best Division I mark in the nation this season. Belt entered the day already atop the national performance list in the long jump, but Saturday's jump, which clinched his second straight BIG EAST indoor long jump title, was more than two inches better than his previous best mark of 25-10.75 set at last week's Tyson Invitational in Arkansas.
"I had a lot of adrenaline in the long jump tonight, and I really like when the jumping areas are so close to the crowd like they are here in Akron," said Belt. "It's nice to get to 26 feet because I wasn't sure if could get there indoors or not. Now, I have to set a higher standard for myself and I'm looking for mid-26 (feet) indoors and 27 feet outdoors."
Overall, the Cards scored 27 points in the long jump as sophomore Andre Black had a personal best jump of 25-02.75 to finish second overall, while sophomore Rudon Bastian made it a Cardinal sweep on the podium with the third-place jump of 24-11.00. Another sophomore, Darin Bright, added the final three points in the event for UofL with sixth-place overall.
The Cardinal men's team's third win of the day came in the men's 5,000-meter run as junior Wesley Korir dominated the field of 16 other runners with a time of 14 minutes, 6.67 seconds to finish more than seven seconds ahead of second place Patrick Smyth of Notre Dame.
"It was a pretty easy race for me and I'm happy with the way that I ran," said Korir. "My plan was to wait until about 3,000 meters to make a move, but the pace was so slow that I felt like I needed to make the move a little earlier. I felt really strong at the end and I could've gone a lot faster if I had been pushed."
Also earning medals for top three finishes for the Cardinal women on Saturday was sophomore ZeNai Savage and freshman Rachel Gehret. Savage finished second in the weight throw behind teammate Emily Turland with a personal best mark of 60-06.50, while Gehret finished third overall in the long jump with a personal best mark of 18-09.75.
Other point scorers for the Cardinal men on Saturday included Andrew Hackney in the men's weight throw with the fourth-place mark of 60-10.50 and the team of Cory Thorne, Nathan Navaro, P.J. Fox and Soimo Kiplagat, who finished seventh overall in the distance medley relay with a school record time of 9:55.54. Also scoring points for the Cardinal women on Saturday was sophomore Seidre Forde with the seventh-place mark of 18-04.50 in the long jump.
UofL also had eight athletes advance to Sunday finals led by sophomore Bryan Webb, who advanced in the men's 200m and 400m, while sophomore Nathan Navaro and freshman Chris Brautzsch each advanced in the men's 60m hurdles. On the women's side, three athletes advanced after school record performances in the Saturday prelims including senior LaShondra Durias in the 60m (7.59), freshman Theresa Lewis in the 60m hurdles (8.41, NCAA provisional mark) and freshman Elisabeth Slettum in the 200m (24.05). The Cardinal women's team's fourth finalist was freshman Tarah McKay in the mile (4:54.56).
"I'm very impressed by the BIG EAST Conference because it has great talent across the board," Mann said. "In most cases, you must have at least an NCAA provisional qualifying mark to win an event and that shows that's a good conference. But to go along with our four individual champions, I'm also very pleased with how all of our kids stepped up. Nathan Navaro did a great job to quality in the (60m) hurdles and ZeNai Savage really stepped up big in the weight throw. And you look at Bryan Webb, who advanced to the finals in two events, including the 200 meters, which was run only 15 minutes after he advanced in the 400m. Those are the things that I'm very happy with."
The final day of competition at the BIG EAST Indoor Championships is set to begin Sunday at 8:30 a.m. ET. Following this weekend's conference meet, UofL is expected to have several athletes traveling to Boston, Mass., on Feb. 24-25 for the USA Indoor Championships, a non-collegiate meet which annually features many of the nation's top professional and collegiate track and field athletes.