ETSU’s Demetria Edgecombe wins the 60-meter hurdles. (Dave Boyd/Johnson City Press)
Win for Coach Walker.
It was the clear mission of the East Tennessee State track and field team Saturday at the 36th annual Niswonger Invitational.
The Bucs won four different events and finished runner-up in five other events in the track meet founded by David Walker, the legendary ETSU coach who died last week at 82.
After her victory in the women’s 60-meter hurdles, ETSU junior Dede Edgecombe fought back tears as she talked about winning on the track inside the MSHA Center which bears for the former coach’s name.
“We wanted to come out and do this for Coach Walker,” Edgecomb said after posting a 8.53-second run. “We were doing it for him today. Everytime I ran, he was there sitting and watching me. Today, he’s not, but he’s looking down on us. I tried my best to come out on top.”
Current ETSU coach George Watts stressed to his team how important it was to honor Walker’s memory and to perform well with so many of the program’s all-time greats in attendance.
“At our team meeting on Wedenesday, I talked about Coach Walker and how we were going to have so many alum in town,” Watts said. “I told them they expect us to compete and run hard whether we win or lose. As long as we’re competing hard, people will notice. I think we did that this weekend.”
It was certainly the case in the men’s distance medley relay.
Angus Baldwin, Desmond Pierce and Thomas Miller kept ETSU neck-and-neck with Chattanooga before turning the race over to Simeon Roberts for the final leg.
Roberts and Chattanooga anchor Harry Smithers got into a little bit of an elbow fight at the start of the final lap before Roberts sprinted away to the victory.
“Coach Watts told me if it came to a kick, save it for the last lap,” Roberts said. “Two laps to go, he told me to save it. With 300 (meters) to go, I just took off.
“I’m pretty confident in my kick. Coach Watts and I talked about it, and he said, ‘If you’re going to go, you’re going for the win.’ That’s what I was focused on. I knew I couldn’t give up the lead.”
Like Edgecomb, he spoke of Walker’s influence afterwards. Roberts’ father ran for Western Carolina in the 1970s and had shared stories about the famed “Irish Brigade,” a group of Irish runners Walker recruited who helped build ETSU into a national power.
“I went to Coach Walker’s service this past week and it was inspiring,” Roberts said. “You had all the Irish guys, and a lot of them were at this race. Earlier when I ran the mile, they were sitting on the backstretch, telling me to relax, stay strong and be confident. Today was for Coach Walker and ETSU track and field.”
Roberts was referring to his win in the men’s 1-mile unseeded race. He crossed the line at 4:19 with three Milligan runners behind him. Robers finished three seconds ahead of the Buffs’ Taylor Tafelsky, five seconds ahead of Christian Brewer and 11 seconds ahead of Ayden Farmer.
ETSU junior Jessica Palmer gave the Bucs another win in the women’s 5,000 university/college race. She ran 18:43 to finish 16 seconds ahead of runner-up Kendra Kinsley of Austin Peay.
Palmer, a junior, is now getting back in the flow after taking a year off to concentrate on her studies as a chemistry major.
“I loved getting back in track, the team aspect,” Palmer said. “I’ve always viewed running as my stress outlet from school. It was nice to get back racing again after the break. To win again, it boosts your confidence.”
There were a full handful of runner-up finishes, led by the men’s 1-mile invitational where ETSU runners finished second, third and fourth.
Filip Jalovy crossed the line at 4:15, only three seconds behind race winner Brandon Hudgins. Jalovy’s ETSU teammates -- Baldwin and James Miller -- wound up10 seconds behind him.
Lady Buc sophomore Chelsea Clarke was second in the women’s version of the event. She took the lead midway through the race before ultimately finishing (5:10) less than a second behind Sherrill McFarlane of Georgia Southern.
The Lady Bucs’ Victoria Hutchens finished second in the 3,000 unseeded race. Her time of 10:45 was six seconds off the pace of Katharina Seelos of Queens (N.C.).
Milligan’s Cassie St. John, a former David Crockett High School standout, ran a 10:57 to finish fifth.
The Bucs’ other runner-up finish came in the men’s pole vault where freshman Brett Squibb cleared 16 feet and 4 3/4 inches.
Milligan had plenty to cheer about as well with a pair of NAIA national qualifying efforts.
Lauren Grindstaff was fourth in the women’s 5,000 invitational race at 18:15. Hannah Segrave was sixth in the 800 unseeded race, where she was the first non-NCAA Division 1 runner to finish.
The meet also featured 2012 Olympic silver medalist Manteo Mitchell, who easily won the 60 and 300-meter dashes. Mitchell, a former Western Carolina star, finished the 300 in 32.72, a half-second off the world record time he hoped to break.
Still, it was a productive weekend for the 26-year-old from Shelby, N.C.
“The 60 isn’t really my event,” Mitchell said. “I’m more of a speed endurance runner so I run the 400. But, my coach and I are working on speed training, and I was just a hundredth off my p.r.”