Nov. 25, 2002
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- Nine days after posting the high-water mark in Tennessee's cross country season with an improbable team victory at the NCAA South Regionals, the Volunteer harriers' fortunes cooled Monday with a 31st-place finish at the NCAA Championships.
On a sunny but chilly Terre Haute afternoon, with a slight wind making the temperature in the high 30s seem cooler, Tennessee struggled to advance its pack through the best field the nation has to offer on Indiana State's 10K LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course, resulting in a 647-point, 31st-place finish. The Vols finished a mere one point behind 30th-place Michigan State.
Despite posting three team victories, back-to-back NCAA Championships appearances and one of the best seasons in the George Watts era (1995-present), Watts and the Volunteers felt the NCAA Championships results were a bitter pill to swallow and a tough way to send four seniors out. Meanwhile the time spread between a team's top-five scorers rarely lies, and Tennessee's spread of 1:14.1 tied for the worst of the year. The Vols' NCAA Championship spread of 1:14.1 identically matched the spread from the SEC Championships, the only other disappointing race of the 2002 campaign. However, on the bright side, Tennessee's top-five scoring runners trimmed appreciable time off their 10K efforts at the South Regionals nine days ago, albeit on a slightly faster course.
"We're disappointed," Watts said. "When you go to the national meet you have to be ready to compete. In this race there's a fine line where you're literally in it one minute and out of it the next minute. You've got to be in it mentally in this race, and it's a tough race to run. We got out OK, but from the one-mile mark we just didn't run from there."
Pre-race favorite Stanford took the team title with a crushing 47 points, 60 points ahead of runner-up Wisconsin. Individually, Jorge Torres, running for fourth-place Colorado, broke the tape first to lead in the 214-runner field.
Patrick Gildea led the Volunteer effort for the fourth race this season with his 100th-place finish in a lifetime-best 31:07.6, a whopping minute and 22 seconds faster than his time at the South Regional. Gildea wrapped up the year joining Steve Klein as the only Vols to score in each of seven meets. By opening up orange and white scoring for the fourth time this season, Gildea became the only Vol to lead the Tennesseans in multiple meets in 2002. In fact, the senior from Holbrook, N.Y., concludes his Tennessee career a perfect 10 for 10 in landing in the Vols' top-three scorers.
Senior co-captain Eric Bell finished his cross country career 137th in 31:28.1, a minute and 27 seconds faster than his South Regional time and previous lifetime best. Bell stood as the second Tennessean to cross the finish line, his highest position in the Vol pack since 2000. Likewise, redshirt freshman Ed Davis capped his rookie campaign as the Vols' third man, his best such finish in the orange and white pack. Davis took 177th in 31:54.8, a lifetime best and a minute and 23-second improvement on his South Regional time. Senior co-captain Scott DeFilippis wasn't too far behind in 32:01.4 to take 186th. DeFilippis capped his collegiate career with a 12-second improvement on his lifetime best and 35-second improvement on last week's regional time. Junior Steve Klein wrapped up Vol scoring for the fifth time this season as Tennessee's dependable fifth man. Klein took 206th in 32:21.7, 44 ticks better than at the South Regional. A model of consistency, Klein joins Gildea as the only two Vols to score in each of the season's seven races.
Junior Tim Kelly clocked in at 32:38.2, the sixth Tennessee finisher and 218th overall. Kelly scored in five of Tennessee's seven meets. Senior Rob Cloutier closes his cross country career in 242nd in 33:31.4, putting the bookend on the Volunteer effort. Cloutier scored for the Vols in four meets this season.
As Cloutier crossed the finish line, the 2002 chapter of Tennessee's cross country story came to a close. The Vols didn't author quite as happy an ending as they would have preferred, but there was substance in this year's effort. Tennessee won three meets with triumphs against seven teams at the Tennessee Invitational, 13 teams at the Furman Invitational and 18 teams at the NCAA South Regional Championships. It marked the first time Tennessee had won three meets since 1999. Additionally, Tennessee's South Regional win stands as one of Tennessee's biggest wins in the last decade. Qualifying for the 2002 NCAA Championships also marked the first time since 1994-95 that the Vols qualified as a team in the NCAA Championships.