A controversial disqualification cost the men’s track and field team an Atlantic Coast Conference title this past weekend at home in the Rector Fieldhouse.
The call was made in the men’s 3,000-meter event Saturday, where sophomore Will Mulherin initially won the event before officials determined that he pushed a Florida State runner, thus disqualifying the Virginia Tech sophomore.
According to Tech track and field head coach Dave Cianelli, the call was questionable at best and could have gone either way.
“Whether I or anybody else thinks it was a good call is something we’re going to have to live with,” Cianelli said. “It’s a judgment call on the part of the official. What I saw was the Florida State runner tried to cut in without enough room, and Will put his hand out to try to keep from falling. I didn’t agree with the call but I’m not going to dwell on it and say that it cost us the meet.”
Running referee Richard Messenger explained the call in a statement after the meet.
“The Virginia Tech athlete pushed another athlete as they were entering the bell lap, causing him to break stride. This is a violation of Rule 5-5-3a. The resulting action was a disqualification of the Virginia Tech athlete,” Messenger said.
The disqualification cost the Hokies 10 points and awarded Florida State two extra points when its runner received credit for a second place finish, rather than a third.
The point swing left the Hokies with 97 instead of 107 total points at the end of the meet, while the Seminoles finished with 107 total points, instead of the 105 they would have finished with had Mulherin not been disqualified.
The University of North Carolina finished in second place with a score of 103.5.
Despite a controversial end to the men’s events, a women’s third-place finish and several record-breaking performances on both ends left Cianelli with a lot to be pleased about when the weekend was over.
“I’m really happy with how our athletes performed,” Cianelli said.
The men’s team was actually in first place following the competition Friday, credited mostly to the strong competition of the weight throwers.
Freshman thrower Alexander Ziegler won the ACC title while also setting a personal best of 73-10.25. He’ll move on in two weeks to compete in the NCAA championship.
“I’m pretty happy that I won my first ACC meet,” Ziegler said. “I have to fix some things. I lost a little technique a little bit, to get ready for NCAA meet in two weeks and I should be fine. I had three throws over my old (personal record). That is an awesome
Friday’s meet also brought a minor scare to the men’s team, however. Sophomore standout sprinter Keith Ricks was injured during the preliminary race of the 200-meter event after he felt his hamstring “twinge.”
“About halfway into the race, he pulled up and the doctors checked him out and everything,” Cianelli said. “He’s pretty healthy since it wasn’t a strain or a pull, which obviously would have been a longer rehab. It was smart that he stopped because if he hadn’t it may have been much worse than it was.”
Ricks did not compete in Saturday’s meet and will begin rehabbing his injury this week. Cianelli is hopeful Ricks can compete in the NCAA meet.
“He did the right thing,” Cianelli said. “Thankfully it wasn’t anything serious that’s going to keep him out for a long period of time.”
On the women’s side, senior Queen Harrison continued her dominant season by winning the 60-meter hurdles while also setting another ACC record in the event.
Harrison set a new conference meet record with a time of 7.99 seconds Friday during the preliminary round and lowered the mark to 7.94 seconds later on. Harrison set the Tech school record with her new time, beating the previous time of 7.96 seconds.
“It was good,” Harrison said. “I think with the 7.99 I set myself to run really fast. I felt like I executed the race really, really well. I was surprised by the time but I felt like I’d probably run it faster then (Friday).”
With her new time, Harrison also made herself known as one of the fastest in the world.
“This is really the first year since probably her freshman year that she’s been healthy and been able to train consistently,” Cianelli said. “I feel like this year she’s doing some of the little things to maintain her health and that’s paid off. Running 7.94 is the fifth best time in the world right now.”
Senior Kristi Castlin finished second behind Harrison with a time of 8.11 seconds.
“If Queen’s not on top of her game, Kristi’s right there ready,” Cianelli said. “The nice thing in training (together), they see each other every day and are pushing each other.”
Harrison also won in the 400-meter event, setting another school record with a time of 53.06 seconds.
“She’s in the best shape of her life right now and I think the success she’s had will carry over to the outdoor season,” said Cianelli.
Back on the men’s side, some success came Saturday without controversy.
The men made up for some of the points lost in the 3,000 in the field, with an impressive performance from the team’s pole-vaulters.
The Hokies placed first, second, third and fifth in the event — a remarkable feat in any event.
Junior Hunter Hall won the event, followed by junior Jared Jodon, senior Yavgeniy Olhovsky and junior Joe Davis, respectively.
“To go one, two, three, five is an amazing performance and certainly, I think is a little unexpected,” said Cianelli.
To cap off the meet, the Hokies took second place in the women’s 4x400-meter relay with a time of 3:39:69. The relay included Harrison, freshman Yvonne Amegashie, freshman Funmi Alabi and sophomore Aunye Boone.
“We have a really young team and I felt like everyone did their best especially since we’re such a young team,” Harrison said.
Overall, Cianelli was very pleased with the results from the meet and indoor season.
“It was just an amazing day,” he said. “We put ourselves in position to win the meet, which was the goal, we want to be a contender each time out and that’s what we were.”
Several members of the team will compete in the NCAA meet in two weeks.
After that, the team will shift gears and focus on the spring season, which begins on March 19 in Clemson, S.C. at the Clemson Invitational.
“We have a very young team and we’re going to only get better,” Cianelli said.