Nov. 3, 2003
ATHENS, Ga. -- Tennessee's cross country squad finished in the middle of the conference pack with a sixth-place, 141-point finish in the 11-team 8K Southeastern Conference Championships field Monday morning on the University of Georgia Golf Course in Athens, Ga. The Vols' five-man scoring spread, a telltale measuring stick, clocked in at 54.53 seconds, the slowest of the year.
However, to their credit, the Vols did pass some competitors down the final stretch to shrink the score a bit. In a good sign for the future, two of the top three Volunteer finishers were true freshmen and four of the Tennessee scoring five return next season.
Arkansas won its 13th consecutive SEC cross country title with a 33-point
effort to better host Georgia's 58-point tally. The Razorbacks' top-five runners
placed in the top 10 overall to cinch the win. Florida
(95 points), Alabama (97 points) and Kentucky (122 points) rounded out the top five. Thomas Morgan of Kentucky broke the 25-minute barrier to take the individual crown in 24:59.25. Georgia's Simon Ngata took silver with a 25:04.36 effort.
The Volunteers joined their SEC brethren on the most challenging course they've tackled this season. The course was slightly more hilly than the Vols' home course at Lambert Acres Golf Club in Maryville. Additionally, Vol times were swollen as the rolling terrain offered few straightaways to aid acceleration and decreased opportunities to chase down the leaders. The course was in good shape, the footing solid but the grass dusted by the morning dew. The cool early morning temperature for warm-ups gave way to comfortable conditions for the 9 a.m. race run under azure skies. The teams were packed tight to start the race with the Vols lined up in the center starting box flanked by the racing colors of the other 10 SEC teams contesting the race on the pine tree-lined fairways framing the loops forming the 8,000 meter test.
"I'm certainly not happy with our team finish," head coach George Watts said. "We needed to run stronger in the middle of the race to be successful. We have another race to look forward to on Nov. 15 [the NCAA
South Regional]. That will give us another opportunity to perform at the level we're capable of. Dusty Miller did a nice job in his first SEC Championship. Although I think Tim Kelly could have run better, he did a nice job as our No. 1 man, just missing All-SEC by a couple of spots. We need to put this race behind us and begin preparing for the Regional tomorrow."
Kelly led the Volunteers for the second time this season with his 17th-place,
25:55.14 finish. In his last SEC meet, the senior raced out to the early lead
and carried the flag for Tennessee throughout the test after
not finishing the SEC race last year.
"I was disappointed but not down on myself," Kelly said. "I didn't run poorly. I just could have run better. The hills were tough. The middle part and the last half of the race I kind of lost my focus and let the pack break up and move away from me. Our team finish was disappointing. We didn't perform as well as we wanted to. We've been a team that responds after a poor performance. The last three years we've not performed as well as we wanted at SECs, but bounced back with a good performance at Regionals."
True freshman Miller, a Knoxville West product, arrived second for the Vols
in 26:10.21 to earn 22nd, thanks to a strong kick to close the race. Miller's
effort stands as his strongest since the Sept. 12 season
"Our whole team's training has been great," Miller said. "My first race was good on a hilly course [the Tennessee adidas Invitational in Maryville]. I kind of hit a slump [midseason] but pulled out of it when I needed to. I was really happy with my race. I didn't want to go out too fast and get sucked in. I wanted to pick people off as we went along. When it came down to the end I had a little left and passed a couple more people the last 200 meters. I'm excited about running at Regionals now that I feel I'm back on my game."
Jeff Day, another true freshman, arrived third in the Vol pack and 33rd overall with a 26:10.21 time. Day picked off a trio of runners down the stretch to move the scoreboard the right direction for the Tennesseans. Sophomore Ed Davis, passing two runners on the way in, took 35th in 26:37.98. Co-captain Matthew Lapp, a junior, finished 37th in 26:49.67 to wrap up the Tennessee scoring after not making the Vols' SEC travel squad last year.
Tennessee's other co-captain, Steve Klein, was just an eyeblink behind in 38th in 26:50.88. Farragut product Nate Jansen, a redshirt freshman, took 49th in 27:24.63. True freshman Chris Platt was slowed by a cramp but still finished the race. Platt crossed 70th in 28:21.25.
The challenge remains great for Watts and his Vols as the stakes grow even
higher for the NCAA South Regional on Saturday, Nov. 15 in Auburn, Ala. The
top two team finishers at the South Regional earn NCAA
Championships berths. The rest of the South Region squads, with the exception of a couple of individuals, must call it a season.
While Tennessee currently stands sixth in the South Region rankings, the Vols
have bounced back with a fury at the Regional after disappointing SEC finishes
the last two years. Tennessee advanced to the NCAAs from the
South Regional by winning the meet in 2002 and taking second in 2001 despite entering the meet ranked fourth regionally both years. Watts' charge for the Tennessee harriers is to find a way to best the current
top-five region teams of Georgia, Florida State, Florida and Alabama and land one of the two NCAA slots for the Vols' third consecutive trip to nationals as a team.
1. Arkansas 33
2. Georgia 58
3. Florida 95
4. Alabama 97
5. Kentucky 122
6. TENNESSEE 141
7. Auburn 178
8. Mississippi State 206
9. LSU 241
10. Vanderbilt 306
11. Mississippi 346
17. Tim Kelly - 25:55.14
22. Dusty Miller - 26:10.21
33. Jeff Day - 26:37.59
35. Ed Davis - 26:37.98
37. Matthew Lapp - 26:49.67
38. Steve Klein - 26:50.88
49. Nate Jansen - 27:24.63
70. Chris Platt - 28:21.25