Oct. 29, 2001
cross country squad raced to a season-best third-place finish in a Southeastern
Conference Championships resurgence at Indian Pines Golf Course in Auburn, Ala.
The Vols, led yet again by junior captain Ryan Demers and a four-Vol presence
in the top 22, challenged for runner-up honors before taking bronze with 92 points,
pleasantly distanced from last year?s seventh-place, 163-point Vol SEC finish.
Arkansas raced to the team title with a strong 24-point performance. Alabama?s David Kimani proved he is among the nation?s best by earning individual medalist honors courtesy of a 23:46.93 clocking.
?I?m very pleased with the poise and determination of our team today,? cross country coach George Watts said. ?We experienced tremendous improvement over last year?s SEC Championships and since our last race (the Furman Invitational Oct. 13). Four of our top five were guys who ran in their first SEC Cross Country Championship, and, as a group, handled the pressure extremely well. Although we are happy with our performance, we still have a lot to look forward to. We need to regroup and mentally prepare for the South Region Championships.?
The Volunteers donned white jerseys and orange shorts under azure skies on the 8K course at Indian Pines, arguably the flattest and fastest course Tennessee has visited this season, in near-perfect conditions with race time temperatures in the mid 50s and just a whisper of a breeze.
The Volunteer harriers sewed together season-best after season-best to peak thus far at the beginning of the championship portion of the schedule, an annual directive from distance tutor Watts. The average time of the Vol scoring five at the SECs (25:09.93) upped the previous season best by more than 15 seconds. The spread (the time elapsed between Tennessee?s first and fifth scorer) of 1:12.97 also proved to be another season best for the Vols. The third-place team finish is likewise a season-best effort. Four Vols surpassing season-best times fueled the peak day. Additionally, Tennessee unexpectedly slipped past Florida and stuck close to Alabama to preview a mammoth clash for a NCAA Championships qualifying spot at the upcoming South Regionals.
As is now custom, Demers, the Vol captain, led the Tennessee contingent, as he has in each of the four races in which he has run this season. Demers took sixth place (second among Americans) in a 76-runner field by crossing the finish line in 24:25.13, 13 seconds faster than any of his previous times this year and tying his best placement of the year. His effort garned All-SEC acclaim as one of the top 15 finishers.
?I think this is the best race I?ve put together since I?ve been here,? Demers said. ?I think we know how good we are. We haven?t totally put it together, including this one. Even though we did well here, I think we can do a lot better at the regional race. (On leading the team in each race in which he has competed) I think consistency is crucial to anything you do whether it?s academics or running.?
Sophomore Tim Kelly also finished near the fore of the orange and white pack by clocking in at 25:02.13, 35 seconds faster than the last time he competed on the Indian Pines course at the Auburn Invitational on Sept. 29. Kelly just missed All-SEC honors by one runner and two seconds with his 16th-place finish.
?My problem earlier in the season is that I haven?t gotten out fast enough,? Kelly said. ?Today I did the exact opposite and got out first. The race felt different because I went out harder. It?s (the third-place team finish) definitely a confidence booster as far as the team goes. We were close to Alabama and beat Florida which is important for the South Region and NCAA Championship race.?
In just his second race as a Vol, junior Pat Gildea took 19th in 25:17.16, the biggest season-best improvement by a Vol by shaving 1:09 off his last outing. Freshman Matthew Lapp contributed his finest day of his young career by trimming 31 seconds off his season best to finish 22nd in 25:27.13. In 29th place, junior Scott DeFilippis rounded out the Vol scoring five by crossing the line in 25:38.10.
Sophomore Steve Klein placed 41st in 26:06.74, shaving seven seconds off his previous season best. Sophomore Keith Kimmons followed in 46th place with a 26:14.70 effort, 50 seconds faster than he ran the same course Sept. 29 at the Auburn Invitational. Rob Cloutier rounded out the Vol squad with a 55th-place, 26:41.56 finish after a bit of hard luck. Running strong enough as Tennessee?s fifth man through the majority of the race to probably push the Vols into second place, Cloutier was slowed by a painful stitch in his side with only about 2K left in the race.
?I?m very proud of Ryan Demers for his All-SEC performance,? Watts said. ?I want to single out Pat Gildea and Matthew Lapp for their effort today. I also feel bad for Rob Cloutier, who was running well in our top five and developed a bad side stitch at the 3 3/4 mile mark.?
The South Region Championships arrive Nov. 10 as the next stop on the championship portion of the schedule for the Vol harriers. The South Region Championships have been moved to Tuscaloosa, Ala., after originally being scheduled for Birmingham, in the first 10K race of the year for Tennessee. The top two teams from the South Region Championships will advance to the NCAA Championships Nov. 19 at Furman. Tennessee is currently ranked fourth in the Oct. 16 U.S. Cross Country Coaches Association South Region rankings behind Alabama, Florida State and Florida. The competition at the South Regionals for the two NCAA berths should be titanic given the tight finish between the Volunteers, Tide and Gators at the SEC meet.