The University of Tulsa men's track and field team won the 2012 Conference USA Indoor Track & Field Championship Sunday at the Birmingham CrossPlex.
The Golden Hurricane unseated the five-time champion Houston Cougars 139-138 to win the first league crown in school history. UH had claimed eight of the last nine C-USA Indoor Championships.
"This is such a great feeling. I can't stress enough how proud I am of all the athletes with how they handled these last two days," Tulsa Head Coach Steve Gulley said. "It's not very often you go into the bottom of the ninth with a chance to win against a great team like Houston, but everything just fell into place and we hit one out of the park. The kids showed a lot of character today."
Tulsa trailed the Cougars by 30 points through 15 of 17 events. The Golden Hurricane leapt into the lead with a near-flawless 3,000, earning 34 points in the event and taking the lead over Houston at 133-130.
Then came the final event – the 4x400m relay. Houston led the race through three legs, while Tulsa sat in fourth place.
UTEP's relay team was able to pass the Cougar anchor on the final lap, and TU junior Julian Frazier passed East Carolina's anchor in the final 50 meters to secure third place. UH earned eight points in the event and Frazier's effort gave the Golden Hurricane the six points needed to win the league title outright by a mere point.
"That last race was tough to watch," Gulley said. "I thought everything was falling into place for us, and it was hard to believe that we were going to come up a point short. That last lap was magical. Julian worked so hard to get us into third. He had a great meet for us. We put him in both the 200 and 400 and he was just incredible. Our sprinters pushed us over the top this week. Those guys really delivered. Coach Clif Mitchell has done a great job with them."
Frazier finished second in the 400 (47.80) and third in the 200 (21.74). Senior Justin Smith also finished the 200 in a time of 21.74, and he earned five points for TU with his fourth-place finish.
Junior All-American Chris O'Hare continued his impressive undefeated streak at the conference meet. He took top honors in the 800 meters with a meet, facility and school record of 1:49.98. This was the second-straight year O'Hare won the 800.
Tulsa earned 24 points in the mile, highlighted by O'Hare's top finish of 4:07.81. He has now earned gold in the event the last three years. Junior Andrew Heyes was second in 4:09.78 and senior Tom Marshall was fourth with a time of 4:13.61.
In a meet where every point was crucial, freshman Tim Rackers finished eighth in 4:16.68 to give the Golden Hurricane an extra point in the mile.
The 3,000 proved to be the turning point for TU. Senior Paulo Pinheiro paced a wave of Golden Hurricane that had all top four finishers and six of the top seven spots. Tulsa earned 34 points in the event, and Pinheiro earned his second gold medal of the championship after winning the 5,000 Saturday.
Pinheiro's winning mark of 8:11.13 was both a meet and personal record.
Heyes finished second in 8:12.93, junior Sam Masters was third in 8:13.20 and senior Carl Stones had a PR mark of 8:15.44 to finish fourth. Senior Bill Martin was sixth in 8:19.72 and junior Geraint Davies placed seventh in 8:20.19.
Juniors Kolton Taylor and Alex Sementelli combined for eight points in the heptathlon. Taylor finished fourth with 4,599 points, which was the third most in school history. Sementelli placed sixth with 4,486 points.
Freshman Chase Sammons didn't factor into the team score, but his toss of 15.63m in the shot put broke his school record.
"Chris is such a great competitor, and Paulo really stepped up this weekend," Gulley said. "He really separated himself as one of the top runners. I think that was a big step for Paulo. All of the kids were unselfish this week."
Gulley was named the Conference USA Coach of the Year.
The TU women finished 10th with 30 points. The team was led by junior Done Vermaak, who recorded eight points with her second-place finish in the 800 (2:09.60).
Junior Erin Huddleston placed sixth in the mile with a mark of 4:57.53. The time was the fifth-fastest in school history. Freshman Emily Dunn placed eighth and earned one point for TU with a mark of 4:58.56.
Freshman Natasha Cockram placed fifth in the 3,000 with the fourth-fastest time in school history of 9:42.29. Senior Racquell placed seventh in the 400m dash in 56.43 to give TU two points.
TU's 4x400m relay team placed fifth in 3:45.48. The team consisted of Powell, junior Caroline Schuster and sophomores Katherine Camp and Audrey Jean-Baptiste.
The next event for Tulsa will be the Arkansas Last Chance Meet in Fayetteville, Ark., on March 2.