Ole Miss men’s relay takes third in NCAAs

Published 6:05 am Sunday, March 13, 2016

It’s been a historic season for the Ole Miss track and field program, and the Rebels made some more history Friday night on the first day of the 2016 NCAA Indoor Championships at the Birmingham CrossPlex in Alabama.

The Rebels’ SEC champion men’s distance medley relay capped their season in exciting fashion. The quartet of junior Robert Domanic (1200m leg), sophomore Derek Gutierrez (400m leg), junior Craig Engels (800m leg) and sophomore Sean Tobin (1600m leg) ran a smart race en route to a third-place finish in 9:31.82. That time is the second-best in school history behind the school-record 9:30.48 from earlier this year at the Penn State National.

Domanic ran a beautiful opening leg to put the Rebels in front of the pack at the first handoff. Gutierrez, who is an 800/mile specialist, kept the Rebels in good position after the second leg. Engels surged back to the lead midway through the 800 leg and was about equal with two other teams when he handed off to Tobin. As he often does, Tobin started at a deliberate pace, dropping back into seventh for much of his final leg against some of the nation’s top milers, before an extraordinary kick in the final lap that took him into a solid third place across the finish line behind Oregon and Washington.

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Long time coming
This is the best DMR national finish in school history in the Rebels’ first appearance since 1985, when Ole Miss placed seventh. Remarkably, it’s the third different grouping that has made history this season. Domanic, Ryan Manahan, Engels and Tobin set the school record at Penn State, while Trevor Gilley, Engels, Manahan and Domanic broke the SEC meet record in Fayetteville with a time of 9:37.14.

“Tobin closed great; they all ran really good legs,” first-year head coach Connie Price-Smith said. “We finished third and came out with five All-Americans for the night. The DMR looked nice and strong. Manahan was injured, but I think the four that got out there ran awesome.”

National recognition
First team All-America honors are awarded by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association to first- through eighth-place finishers at the national championships. In addition to Domanic, Gutierrez, Engels and Tobin, senior Ryan Walling placed top eight in the 5000 meters.

Walling, the SEC champion in the 3000 and 5000, placed seventh in the 5K in his first appearance at the NCAA Championships, running a time of 13:53.52. He is the second Rebel to ever make indoor nationals in the 5K. Pablo Sierra placed fifth in 1993.