Nov. 9, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - As he's done all season, Tennessee cross country sophomore Peter Okwera led the Big Orange harriers at the annual NCAA South Regional on Friday in Tallahassee, Fla., posting a sixth place finish to become the first Vol runner to automatically qualify for the NCAA Championships since Zach Sabatino finished third at the event in 2005.
Running the first 10,000-meter course of the season, Okwera navigated the Apalachee Regional Park trail in 30 minutes, 41.10 seconds to finish sixth and lead the Vols to an eighth place team finish in a field of 26 regional teams. For his efforts, Okwera was named to the All-South Region team.
The sophomore has led the Vols in every race this season and was coming off a sixth place finish at the annual Southeastern Conference Championship two weeks ago. The Kampala, Uganda, native was named All-SEC for his performance in Nashville and was the highest individual finisher since Sabatino also finished sixth at the 2005 league championships.
23rd-ranked Florida State landed three runners in the top five en route to the men's title. The Seminoles accumulated 27 points and were followed by No. 26 Georgia with 48 total points. Those two squads got the automatic nod into the NCAA Championships in Louisville, Ky., later this month. On the women's side the top-ranked Seminoles finished 1-2-3 and totaled 24 points to capture the title. Vanderbilt finished second with 112 total points, just three ahead of Georgia (115).
Leading the Lady Vols to a top-10 finish was freshman Alexis Panisse, who completed the 6K course in a personal-best 20:56. Panisse came in 32nd overall, just seven spots off the All-South Region pace. The rookie led UT to a 10th place finish in a loaded field of 29 squads from around the region. She was the fifth finishing freshman at the meet.
Junior Stephen Derlath followed Okwera in 44th place overall, obliterating his top time by posting a 31:57.20 10K mark. Freshman Kyle Walter continued his stellar freshman campaign, coming in 58th overall in 32:16, while juniors Jake Rainey and Daniel Tobin rounded out the UT scoring in 65th and 83rd, respectively.
Also running but not factoring into the scoring was sophomore J.R. Creekmore, who finished 103rd in 33 minutes, 10.9 seconds.
On the women's side, senior Kelsey Kane continued her outstanding campaign with a top-50 finish and shattered her top time by over 30 seconds, crossing the line in 21:15.7. Junior Amber Zimmerman finished third for the Lady Vols, with a top time of 21:28.7. Sophomore Kacey Nobert came across the line in a PR of 22:01.8, while freshman Chelsea Blaase rounded out the UT top five in 105th place. Blaase also ran a personal best.
Competing but not factoring into the scoring was junior Nijgia Snapp and sophomore Amirah Johnson. The duo both bested their previous top times and ran a tight group, finishing 123rd and 128th, respectively.
Okwera will be in action at the 2012 NCAA Cross Country Championship on Saturday, Nov. 17 at E.P. Tom Sawyer State in Louisville, Ky. For the first time since World War II, the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships will be held on a Saturday instead of a Monday and for the second time in a BIG EAST Conference city. Okwera will be the first Vol runner at the NCAA Championships since Michael Spooner - who landed an at-large bid - placed 125th in 2010.
MEN'S TEAM RESULTS (TOP 10): 1. Florida State, 27; 2. Georgia, 48; 3. Florida, 67; 4. Georgia Tech, 212; 5. Mississippi State, 216; 6. Chattanooga, 227; 7. East Tennessee State, 238; 8. Tennessee, 250; 9. Memphis, 277; 10. Kennesaw State, 305
WOMEN'S TEAM RESULTS (TOP 10): 1. Florida State, 24; 2. Vanderbilt, 112; 3. Georgia, 115; 4. Florida, 122; 5. Mississippi, 147; 6. Alabama, 248; 7. Lipscomb, 271; 8. Samford, 327; 9. Mississippi State, 328; 10. Tennessee, 333
MEN'S INDIVIDUAL RESULTS: Peter Okwera (6th, 30:41.1), Stephen Derlath (44th, 31:57.2), Kyle Walter (58th, 32:16.0), Jake Rainey (65th, 32:27.8), Daniel Tobin (83rd, 32:47.5), J.R. Creekmore (103rd, 33:10.9)
WOMEN'S INDIVIDUAL RESULTS: Alexis Panisse (32nd, 20:56.0), Kelsey Kane (49th, 21:15.7), Amber Zimmerman (61st, 21:28.7), Kacey Nobert (94th, 22:01.8), Chelsea Blaase (105th, 22:08.4), Nijgia Snapp (123rd, 22:34.6), Amirah Johnson (128th, 22:40.1)