Oct. 30, 2004
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Tennessee improved on last year's sixth-place, 141-point effort with a fifth-place, 124-point outing Saturday at the SEC Cross Country Championship on the Arkansas Cross Country Course at Agri Park.
However, the Tennesseans didn't improve enough to suit head coach George Watts. Running on a flat and extremely fast 8K course, each Volunteer ran a personal best time for that distance. The Vols also achieved a top-five spread of 49.98 seconds, the second-tightest bunching of the season for Tennessee. While still not the finish the Vols envisioned, Tennessee's team depth has also improved since last year's SEC meet. Tennessee's eighth man finished 50th this year. Last year, Tennessee's eighth man finished 70th. Fast times were the norm Saturday as a remarkable 42 men, nearly half the 98-runner field, broke the 25-minute barrier.
"We had a little bit of a tough day today," Watts said. "We improved on last year's finish. We got out well, but this was a tough course to move on if you weren't in the position you needed to be around the one-mile mark. We weren't up quite far enough at the one-mile mark to do what we planned to do. We made up some ground at the end which tells me we'll be better at the 10K distance for regionals."
Homestanding Arkansas won the team race with a 23-point total. Florida and Georgia, among the Vols' most heated rivals for an NCAA berth at the NCAA South Regional, finished second and third with 72 and 81 points, respectively. Auburn totaled 96 points to finish fourth.
Arkansas' Josphat Boit and Shawn Forrest swept the gold and silver individually with a 23:09.91 and 23:20.97 clocking, respectively. Georgia's Simon Ngata crossed in 23:25.87 to earn third.
Zach Sabatino led the Volunteers, the third time in his four meets, with an 11th-place, 24:02.67 time to earn All-SEC honors. Andy Baksa again proved dependable with a 21st-place, 24:26.30 time. Baksa has finished in Tennessee's top two in each of the four meets in which he's run this season. Brian Mills continued his upward momentum through the Vols' pack with a 26th-place, 24:38.49 effort. Mills has crossed the finish line as the third Vol in each of the last two competitive races. Jeff Day finished 34th in 24:46.76 in his second race of the season. Chris Platt wrapped up Tennessee scoring with a 24:52.65 time to earn 38th.
Ed Davis followed right behind in 39th with a 24:54.19 clocking. Matt Piccarello placed 42nd in 24:58.91 in his first SEC meet. Ben Lukowski took 50th in 25:22.18. Dusty Miller finished in 25:30.01 to place 54th. Bookending the Tennessee roster, Nate Jansen did not finish the race.
"We have a tough task ahead of us to qualify for nationals," Watts said. "Our regional team will be determined by our next two weeks of training. I expect our practice days to be very competitive. We are known for running our best races at the regional championships, and I expect nothing less this time around."
Tennessee's runners will be competing for just seven spots on the NCAA South Regionals travel roster. The top-two teams at the NCAA South Regionals earn spots in the Nov. 22 NCAA championship. The NCAA South Regionals will be held Nov. 13 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on the Harry Pritchett Course, the Vols' first 10K race of the season.