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Saunders’ title paces Rebels on second day of SEC outdoors

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Another SEC shot put title for Raven Saunders paced the No. 25 Ole Miss women and No. 28 Rebel men’s contingent on a strong day two of the Southeastern Conference Outdoor Track & Field Championships on Friday.

Through two of three days at the nation’s premier conference meet, Ole Miss sat in seventh in the men’s team standings (19 points) and ninth in the women’s standings (21 points) with a load of scoring opportunities during Saturday’s championship finals. Saturday’s results were not available by press time.

The Rebels have had four scorers and two medalists on the men’s side and three scorers and two medalists on the women’s side. A total of eight Rebels qualified through preliminary races and into Saturday’s running finals, while there are several scoring opportunities in field events on Saturday as well.

With 21 team points, the women had already matched their total from last year’s SEC outdoor meet.

Saunders, a sophomore from Charleston, South Carolina, captured the SEC outdoor shot put crown after winning the indoor shot put back in February. Improving her marks in each round of the finals, she broke the SEC meet record three times leading up to her last attempt of 18.58m/60-11.5. It was just off her outdoor personal best of 18.75m/61-6.25, but she did become the first SEC woman to eclipse 60 feet at the league meet (doing so three times).

The first SEC outdoor shot put champ in school history – male or female – Saunders placed sixth in the hammer throw on Thursday (personal-best 57.97m/190-2) and competed in the discus on Saturday. She went into the championship ranked third among SEC discus throwers.

Ole Miss also had a big scorer on the men’s side Friday, as sophomore MJ Erb captured third place in the men’s 3000-meter steeplechase for six team points. He kicked well on the final lap to clock a lifetime best of 8:43.06 that moves him up to No. 3 in school history and top 20 in the NCAA this year. He’s the best Ole Miss finisher in the SEC men’s steeple since Martin Kirui and Barnabas Kirui went 1-2 in 2010.

Saunders’ powerful throwing and Erb’s strong finish were the only things that could have stolen the Rebels’ lead story of the night from the men’s 1500-meter preliminaries.

Ole Miss sent six runners into the three heats of the 1500-meter preliminaries, and all six advanced to the 12-man final. The championship final had a distinctly red and blue flavor with these six: sophomore Craig Engels (3:46.72), junior Trevor Gilley (3:46.73), junior Sean Tobin (3:48.00), junior Robert Domanic (3:48.04), sophomore Derek Gutierrez (3:48.06) and sophomore Ryan Manahan (3:48.12). Engels and Tobin won their heats outright, while five of the six qualified automatically and Manahan made it through on time.

The Rebels will seek big points in the 1500-meter final, which takes place at 3:30 p.m. CT. In the SEC indoor mile back in February, Ole Miss went 1-2-3 with Domanic, Tobin and Manahan.

Ole Miss also had a female qualifier in the 1500 meters for the first time in school history. Senior Bo Ummels raced to a time of 4:23.68, fifth-best in the prelims, to advance to the 12-woman final that will be at 3:20 p.m. CT Saturday. Her twin sister Britt Ummels just missed the final by finishing 14th in 4:25.73.

Additional personal bests achieved on Friday included Jolie Carbo in the women’s 400 meters (54.68, No. 7 in school history) and Mercedes Mattix in the women’s 400 meters (55.27).

In addition to the men’s and women’s 1500-meter finals on Saturday, Ole Miss will send Dameon Morgan into the men’s 800-meter final (4:50 p.m.), as well as Rebels in the women’s 4×100-meter relay, men’s and women’s 5000 meters, women’s 4×400-meter relay, men’s and women’s discus, women’s triple jump, men’s and women’s pole vault and men’s high jump.