Nov. 15, 2003
AUBURN, Ala. -- Tennessee's cross country squad concluded its team season with an overachieving fourth-place, 125-point finish in the 21-team NCAA South Regional Championship field Saturday morning on the 10K Indian Pines Golf Course in Auburn, Ala. The Volunteers entered the meet ranked sixth in the South Region.
Senior Tim Kelly advanced to the NCAA Championships individually and the Volunteers racked up three members on the All-Region team, but the increased overall strength in the South Region denied the men in orange a shot at a third consecutive NCAA Championship team berth. Kelly's NCAA qualifier keeps alive Tennessee's streak of being represented in the NCAA Championships by a team or individual in all but three seasons since 1971. However, the Vol pack wasn't as tight as head coach George Watts wanted, as Tennessee's top-five scoring spread stood at 1:12.19, the slowest of the six races this season.
The top three spots mirrored the regional rankings, as Georgia, top-ranked regionally and 19th-ranked nationally, took the team title with 37 points. Florida State, ranked second regionally and 24th nationally, earned silver honors with 64 points. The Bulldogs and Seminoles earn the South Region's two NCAA Championships berths. Florida, ranked third in the region, finished with bronze acclaim and 86 points. Fourth-place Tennessee leapfrogged Alabama and Tennessee-Chattanooga, fourth and fifth in the region rankings entering the meet, to push the Tide and Mocs to fifth and sixth respectively when Saturday's race went into the books. The Vols topped five SEC teams in the South Region meet (fifth-place Alabama, eighth-place Auburn, 10th-place Mississippi State, 18th-place Vanderbilt and 20th-place Mississippi).
Individually, Georgia's Simon Ngata won in 30:10.48 to pace the 153-runner field. Florida State's Joep Tigchelaar finished a close second in 30:11.08. Tennessee-Chattanooga's Steven Kocsis broke the tape in 30:24.00 to round out the top three.
"We ran a better race than at the conference meet," head coach George Watts said. "I was happy about that. Our preparation for this competition was excellent, but we need to prepare for each and every race as we did today. I'm excited about the future of this cross country team. Our freshmen did a fine job this fall. Unfortunately, Chris Platt couldn't run today. I also have high expectations for Paul Cross being a contributor to our cross country team next year. It doesn't get any easier next year, but I feel we'll be in the hunt for a team [NCAA] qualifying berth next year.
Kelly's seventh-place, 30:29.58 effort goes down as perhaps the finest race of his collegiate career as the senior from Smithtown, N.Y., chopped 1:05 off his previous lifetime best. The finish locked up a spot at the NCAA Championships starting line for Kelly and was good for All-Region acclaim. Last year, Kelly finished in sixth-place, but in a much slower 32:29.41, to also capture All-Region honors in the 2002 meet. This marks Kelly's third consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships.
Junior co-captain Matthew Lapp's 19th-place, 31:03.18 finish proved good enough for All-Region honors. His time stands a full 1:52 faster than his previous lifetime-best 10K cross country time. Lapp stands as the only Volunteer to land in Tennessee's scoring five in all six of the season's races. Dusty Miller capped an impressive freshman campaign with All-Region honors. The Knoxville West High product finished 22nd in 31:09.09, the third-fastest finish by a freshman in the 153-runner field.
"I was pleased with Tim Kelly's performance in qualifying individually for nationals," Watts said. "He led a good part of the race, through about four and a half miles. He showed a lot of maturity. This is the first time in his cross country career he ran up to his potential in a championship race. He pushed the pace when no one else wanted to help share pacesetting duties. I'd also like to specifically recognize Matthew Lapp and Dusty Miller for their All-Region performances in finishing 19th and 22nd.
Senior co-captain Steve Klein finished fourth among Vols and 38th overall in 31:38.51, 34 seconds faster than he has ever run the cross country 10K. Sophomore Ed Davis wrapped up Tennessee's scoring five with a 41st-place, 40th when adjusted for team scoring, lifetime-best 31:41.77 finish. Davis scored in five of Tennessee's six races on the season.
Junior Doug Brown finished 60th in 32:18.41, 1:12 faster than he has ever run the cross country 10K. Freshman Jeff Day took 61st in 32:19.21 to cap a rookie season in which he finished in Tennessee's scoring five in three of his five races. Farragut native Nate Jansen traveled as Tennessee's alternate but wasn't pressed into service.
The 2003 season saw the Vols remain competitive despite losing a quartet of stalwarts from the 2002 squad. Tennessee won the 18-team Cardinal Classic in October. The Volunteers managed a runner-up finish, two third-place finishes and finished fourth or better in five of the season's six races all the while pressing three freshmen into regular duty. Tennessee returns five of its seven regional travel squad members for 2004, losing only Kelly and Klein to graduation.
Kelly carries the flag for the Volunteers into the 10K NCAA Championships
Monday, Nov. 24 in Waterloo, Iowa to bookend the 2003 harrier effort.