T&F: Denzel Comenentia Wins Third SEC Shot Put Title

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T&F: Denzel Comenentia Wins Third SEC Shot Put Title

Denzel Comenentia
 (Photo by Lauren Tolbert)
Denzel Comenentia
(Photo by Lauren Tolbert)

Denzel Comenentia won his third straight shot put title to highlight the second day of the Southeastern Conference Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Fayetteville, Ark., on Friday.

Georgia had a total of eight scorers and a qualifier Friday with one day remaining.  The Bulldog men stand in second place with 34 points while Florida leads with 37.  The Lady Bulldogs (18.5) are in ninth with Auburn (41), Arkansas (34.5) and Missouri (33) making up the first three spots.

Comenentia became just the fifth SEC competitor in history to win at least three shot put titles by securing the Bulldogs’ their fourth straight championship of its kind.  The Bulldogs had a pair of freshmen scorers in the decathlon as Karel Tilga moved from third to second in the final event and Ziggy Zoller locked up his sixth-place finish with a runner-up finish in the last race.

During her second collegiate heptathlon and at her first SEC outdoor meet, freshman Sterling Lester racked up 5,534 points to take third thanks in part to two personal records to finish the seven-event competition.  Junior Kayla Smith scored for the first time in the pole vault as she approached 14 feet in yet another competition to tie for fourth.  

In the men’s high jump, senior Keenon Laine was part of the 7-foot club to take sixth.  Sophomore Aliyah Whisby used the first long jump of her competition to finish seventh for another two points.  Senior Jonathan Pelham put an exclamation point on the day after moving from the back of the pack to finish seventh in the 3000-meter steeplechase.  

On Thursday, Comenentia secured his third consecutive top-two finish in the hammer throw for second place to give the Bulldog men eight points.  Junior Marie-Therese Obst made a three-place improvement for bronze medal honors in the javelin to put the Lady Bulldogs on the scoreboard.

Senior Michael Nicholls gave the Bulldogs a second qualifier for the finals on the meet after recording a season-best time of 13.64 in the 110m hurdles.

Comenentia kicks off day three action in his third event, the discus, at 1:30 p.m. ET.  The finale of the meet begins with the women’s 4x400m relay at 9:40 p.m.

Saturday’s action will be live on the SEC Network starting at 6 p.m.  The broadcast talent includes Dwight Stones (play-by-play), Larra Overton and Jill Montgomery (analysts) and John Anderson (sideline).

“Denzel was the highlight of the day winning his third consecutive title and keeping the tradition of multiple SEC champions in a row alive for us!” said head coach Petros Kyprianou.  “Overall, it was an OK day since we had a lot of student-athletes score and a few advance.  Karel Tilga was a silver medalist and continues the decathlon scoring for our team over the last decade.  Two freshmen scored 11 points in that event and that’s very, very promising for next year!  Sterling Lester showed some true grit and snatched a medal in her freshman year, which should of have been her senior year in high school.

Kayla Smith
Kayla Smith

“I am very proud of Michael Nicholls and his seasonal best in and super fast heat that pushes him through to Saturday’s final.  Kayla Smith continues to prove herself as a true contender in the best pole vault conference in the nation.  Keenon, Aliyah and Jonathan rounded out the scorers and closed the day well.  We should have done much better in what used to be our events, but I guess you can’t win it every year.  We have to do our best on the last day and finish the weekend as best as we can.”

A native of Amsterdam, Comenentia took control on his first shot put toss of 64 feet, 2 ¼ inches and had three more in his series, including his longest of 65-7 on his fifth attempt, that would have won his third straight title. He becomes the first conference competitor to win three straight since a stretch from 1962-64 when LSU’s Ron Hernandez finished with top honors.

After not competing in 2018, Smith tied for fourth in the pole vault with a second attempt clearance at 13-11.75.  She made three attempts at what would have been a personal record and No. 2 in the school record books of 14-3.50 but could not get over the bar.

Laine hit the 7-foot mark for the fourth time this season and managed a sixth-place finish on Friday.  Clearing his first two heights on his first try, Laine got up to 7-1.50 on his second try to top teammates Darius Carbin (6-11.50) and Antonios Merlos (6-9.50) in the competition.

Whisby took off for a first attempt of 20-8.50 in the long jump and that would end as her top mark for seventh place.  The national leader had another pair of jumps over 20 feet during the first SEC outdoor meet of her career.

On the day’s final event for the Bulldogs, Pelham, who officially earned double degrees from UGA on Friday, started the 3000m steeplechase in the back of the 20-man pack.  A year removed from taking ninth by less than a second, Pelham picked off competitors one by one during his laps and leaned at the line to edge his final foe for Georgia’s last two points of the day. 

To start day two of the decathlon, Zoller, who has been a 400m hurdler for the Bulldogs this season, and Tilga went 4-5, respectively, in the 110m hurdles.  Zoller won the opening heat with a 15.41 for 801 points while Tilga as third in the second group at 15.44 to score 797.  Tilga trailed Moore by 64 points for the overall lead and Zoller remained in fifth place.

Tilga went 18 farther in the discus than he did at his only other decathlon at the collegiate level to take second.  He scored 699 points to take second in the event and trailed the leader by 221 going into the pole vault.  Zoller had three fair throws with his top effort measuring 92-5 to score 429 points and slip to sixth place overall.

Tilga posted four clearances in the pole vault to reach a new personal record of 14-1.25.  This fourth-place finish delivered him 702 points and put him in the overall lead by 59 points.  Zoller made his debut in the event and cleared 9-6.25 on his second try for 333 points.  Zoller stood in sixth place headed into the 1500m.

Zoller topped his teammate in the javelin with a third toss of 119-5 for 390 points.  He completed the ninth of 10 events in sixth place.  Tilga, who spent the earlier portion of the 2018-19 school year recovering from an arm injury and surgery, mustered a short approach throw of 92-11 that scored him 276 points.  Situated in position to win a bronze medal, Tilga trailed the second-place competitor by 150 points going into the 1500m.

Tilga took off from the start gun in the 1500m on a mission and completed that task with an 11-second victory.  He ran a 4:40.80 for 675 points, leaving the former third-place competitor, Auburn’s Chris Stone, behind by half a minute.  With the eventual winner, Texas A&M senior Nathan Hite, on his tail in order to clinch the overall victory, Zoller was second across the line in 4:51.81.  This added a final 608 points.

As the heptathlon continued, Lester put a mark of 19-0 between her first and third tries in the long jump to tally 786 points and take sixth. This marked her second-best collegiate effort (top in the multi-events) and pushed her to third place, trailing second by 20 points.

In the final throws event of the hep, Lester answered a first javelin throw personal record with a second toss that went even farther for 510 points. She had a top mark of 104-2 after coming in with a previous career best of 88-8.  This put Lester in fourth place, trailing the third-place finisher by 36 points.

Lester logged her second consecutive personal record when the 800m finale arrived to add her final 906 points to her total. She broke away from the pack with Florida sophomore Amanda Froeynes and was second in the race with a 2:14.06. This kept Lester 145 points ahead of the fourth-place finish and have Froeyness (5,801) the overall win by just eight points over Texas A&M sophomore Tyra Gittens (5,793).

In addition to Amber Tanner making it through in the 800m on Thursday, Nicholls advanced to the 110m hurdles final after coming within .02 of his personal record.  He ran a 13.64 to be fourth in his heat and sixth overall.  Nicholls will race in the final on Saturday at 6:45 p.m.

Also of note, sophomore decathlete Johannes Erm, who is only competing in the open long jump and pole vault this weekend, finished ninth in the long jump on Friday.  He went 24-10 on his second try to advance to the final and then passed on his last three attempts.

Results and recaps from the SEC Championships will be found at georgiadogs.com.  News and updates from Georgia’s track and field and cross country teams are always located on Twitter/Instagram at@UGATrack.

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Greg is closing in on 11 years writing about and photographing UGA sports. While often wrong and/or out of focus, it has been a long, strange trip full of fun and new friends.