Nov. 8, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Seeking berths in the NCAA Championship field, the Tennessee cross country teams are heading south to Tallahassee, Fla., to compete in the annual NCAA South Regional Championship on Friday. Hosted by Florida State, this season’s meet will take place at Apalachee Regional Park.
More than 400 cross country runners, which includes Division I programs from the states of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, will toe the line Friday morning. The women’s 6,000-meter race is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. ET, while the men’s race – which will be the first 10K for the Vols this season – is slated for a 9:15 a.m. start.
The NCAA South Regional is one of nine regional meets around the country on Friday. Only the top two teams in each race, and the top four finishers who are not part of those teams, are guaranteed a spot in the Nov. 17 running of the NCAA Championships in Louisville, Ky.
The regional field will include representatives from 38 women’s teams, including SEC Champion and 14th-ranked Florida and host institution and No. 1 Florida State. On the men’s side, there will be 33 men’s teams, including 23rd-ranked Florida State and 26th-ranked Georgia.
The Vols, which are coming off a seventh-place finish at the Southeastern Conference Championships, are led by sophomore Peter Okwera. The transfer posted a sixth place finish at the league championships, besting his previous 8K personal record to earn All-SEC honors. His finish at the league championships was Tennessee’s best individual performance at the meet since Zach Sabatino finished sixth in 2005.
The Vols’ top returning performer from last season’s South Regional is junior Jake Rainey, who finished second on the team and 35th overall. Rainey is coming off his best race of the season, where he placed 53rd overall at the SEC Championship.
On the women’s side, Tennessee is led by a trio of Lady Vols in freshman Alexis Panisse, junior Amber Zimmerman and senior Kelsey Kane. UT finished 12th at the SEC Championships two weeks ago. Zimmerman led the Lady Vols for the first time this season with a personal-best mark of 21:30.68 to finish in 28th place overall, while Kane clocked in at 21:48.51 to round out the top 50. The Knoxville native, who has bested her PR in every race this season, is UT’s top returning performer from last season’s South Regional. She finished third on the team and 92nd overall in 2011.
Panisse, who has led the Lady Vols in four of five races this season, finished in 59th place and earned SEC All-Freshman Team honors for placing in the top seven of all freshman at the league championship.
This season’s NCAA Championships will take place on Saturday, Nov. 17 at E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park 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.