Jan. 9, 2002
The Volunteers' cross country
team spent Tuesday evening receiving awards and recounting stories of the 2001
campaign, its best since 1998, at the annual squad banquet at the Tennessee
Grill. Speakers and awards echoed the themes of hard work, commitment, comradery
and pride in wearing the `T' to cap a solid year for the orange-bedecked harriers.
"With the exception of Clay Wiggins, each and every one of you is back next year," cross country coach George Watts said. "We had a tough year in 2000. In 2001, we hung together and worked hard and people know who we are now. If you want it bad enough, it's going to happen."
Junior captain Ryan Demers, who led the Vols in each of the six races in which he competed, nabbed Most Valuable Runner honors in his first season donning the orange and white. Demers also took home the Captain's Award.
Also in his first season competing for the Vols, junior Patrick Gildea earned the Vega-Watts Volunteer Award presented for the 22nd year to the individual who made the greatest sacrifice to compete for the team. The award is sponsored by former Vol distance greats and teammates Sal Vega (1977-79) and Watts (1976-78).
Sophomore Keith Kimmons won the Most Improved Award. Letter awards went to the eight competitors at the Southeastern Conference Championships -- Rob Cloutier, Scott DeFilippis, Demers, Gildea, Tim Kelly, Kimmons, Steve Klein and Matthew Lapp.
The attendees were also treated to remarks by a great name of the Volunteer past in Lou Schneider. A distance ace, Schneider lettered for the first time in 1944 and graduated from Tennessee in 1949. Schneider held the school mile record for a period during his career. A lifelong track man, Schneider clocked an impressive 2:12 in the 800M run at age 52.
Schneider spoke of the four divisions of American running (and his affinity for two of those) and thanked the Vols for their recent rebirth. "A road race is a social event," Schneider said. "Indoor track is a circus. Outdoor track is real track and cross country is war. I admire the cross country man. I want to congratulate you guys on turning things around in the SECs and regionals. They say sports builds character. I've never believed that. Sports reveals character."
Under Watts' watchful eye, Tennessee underwent a cross country resurgence last year, highlighted by a return to the NCAA Championships after a two-year absence. The Vols' most dramatic and important improvements came in the final third of the season -- the championship portion of the schedule. In 2001, the Vols placed a strong third at the SEC Championships, up from seventh the year before. Likewise, Tennessee peaked when it needed an extra kick to make the NCAA finals field with a strong performance at the NCAA South Regionals. Though ranked fourth in the South Region, the Vols posted a runner-up finish, their best of the season, at the NCAA South Regionals to claim the elusive NCAA Championships berth. Demers, Kelly and Gildea earned All-Region honors. Demers also rated All-SEC.
Watts closed with a challenge for continued improvement. "We all know we have a great opportunity to get better and work harder in indoor track, outdoor track and then to cross country next year," Watts said. "Now we move to the next step. And the next step is a 6:30 morning run tomorrow."
|LIST OF AWARDS|
|Most Valuable Runner - Ryan Demers|
|Captain's Award - Ryan Demers|
|Vega-Watts Volunteer Award - Patrick Gildea|
|Most Improved Award - Keith Kimmons|
|Letter Awards - Rob Cloutier, Scott DeFilippis, Ryan Demers, Pat Gildea, Tim Kelly, Keith Kimmons, Steve Klein and Matthew Lapp|