Steve Fassino will run in his final SEC Cross Country Championship meet on Monday.
Oct. 29, 2010
By Eric Trainer, Associate Director of Media Relations
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The proverbial hay is in the barn, and now it's time to see what all the work that came before produces. After running in four races to prepare them for this moment, the University of Tennessee cross country teams will travel to Columbia, S.C., to take part in the 2010 Southeastern Conference Championships on Monday.
The University of South Carolina will play host to the meet at the Fort Jackson Army Training Center. The base's Hilton Field will be the site of the women's 6,000-meter race at 10 a.m. Eastern, followed by the men's 8,000-meter affair at 11 a.m. SEC Weekly will feature a recap segment of the meet, televised by ESPNU on Nov. 3 at 5 p.m. ET.
On the men's side, the Vols, who were sixth at this meet in 2009, were picked in the preseason by the league's coaches to finish in a tie for fifth. Alabama, the defending champion, was the favorite to claim the trophy. The Crimson Tide, however, enters the meet ranked 27th nationally, trailing No. 10 Arkansas and No. 26 Florida among the three SEC schools in this week's United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) National Rankings.
Coming off a finish of 26th out of 36 schools in the White Race at the ISU Pre-National Invitational (Pre-Nats) on Oct. 16, the Vols refocused and returned to practice with a renewed commitment since that disappointing outcome. They enter with a 59-38 won-lost record after posting finishes of second at the Belmont-VU Opener, first at the Commodore Classic, 13th at the Brooks Paul Short Run and 26th at the ISU Pre-National Invitational.
"Our training has progressed nicely since our last meet," UT Men's Cross Country Coach George Watts said." I feel like we are prepared to have our best race of the season, and I believe we can improve on last year's SEC finish."
For that to happen, the Big Orange's seniors will need to lead the way. Michael Spooner has illuminated the path in his three races this season and has been UT's top finisher in nine of his past 11 starts, including a 72nd-place performance out of 241 runners at Pre-Nats. The product of Springfield, Va., will be aiming to earn conference honors for the fourth time in his career. He was an All-SEC Second Team selection the past two seasons (finished 13th at league meet in 2008 and 11th in 2009) and made the SEC All-Freshman Team in 2008 (29th).
With UT's No. 2 man from a year ago, senior Peter Sigilai, unavailable this season due to injury, classmates Chris Rapp and Steve Fassino, juniors Chris Bodary and Tom Gilmartin, and true freshman Jake Rainey have more responsibility on them to help offset that loss. Rapp, who missed the 2009 campaign due to injury, is enjoying quite possibly his best season as a collegian. He has improved from the team's fifth runner at his first meet this season to the squad's number two scorer at Pre-Nats, cranking out his best time (24:59.9) in four career appearances on the NCAA Championship course in Terre Haute, Ind., on Oct. 16.
"Mike Spooner has a chance to become one of the few three-time All-SEC performers in the history of our program," Watt said. "As a whole, I am very happy with the work ethic and team chemistry of this group. They all deserve to have a great performance on Monday."
The Lady Vols, who placed second a year ago and were projected to tie for fourth by the league's skippers in 2010, have dropped out of the USTFCCCA's South Region Rankings for the initial time since 2000. They also face the risk of charting another first since Y2K - not finishing in the top three in the SEC team standings. That said, the conference is not as strong as it typically has been on the women's side, with no team occupying a spot in the top 30 of the USTFCCCA National Rankings. Vanderbilt and Arkansas, however, are receiving votes in the latest poll.
It should be pointed out that Tennessee's preseason placing of fourth by the coaches was based on the fact that two-time All-SEC performer Brittany Sheffey (12th in 2009) and 2009 league scorer Chanelle Price (18th) were returning to lead the charge. Sheffey, however, has yet to hit the trails this season for the Big Orange, and Price only made her season debut on Oct. 16. On that date, she promptly led the team to its best finish of the season with a 10th-place personal effort on the two-mile course at the Front Runner Invitational in Chattanooga. Both runners are listed on the squad's travel itinerary to the Palmetto State.
Freshman Amber Zimmerman has been as steady as any coach could expect a rookie to be, leading the team in three of its races (4K, 5K, 6K) and narrowly finishing behind Price in the most recent meet (two miles). Sophomore Ramzee Fondren has contributed to the scoring total in all four races, thus far, finishing third, second, fifth and third on her squad. Junior Elizabeth Tiller also has been consistent, filling the two, three, three and five spots for the Big Orange.
Also looking to make an impact will be junior Elizabeth Altizer as well as sophomores Ally Colvin, Andrea Ferri and Kelsey Kane. Altizer, Colvin and Ferri have counted in the final tally on two occasions each in 2010, while Kane returned to the lineup for the first time in more than a year at the Front Runner Invitational.
"We're going to go there, and our goal is to have the best race of our season," UT Director of Track & Field and Women's Cross Country Coach J.J. Clark said. "I believe we're at the right point to do that.
"Chanelle, obviously, wasn't herself the entire year; that's why we didn't run her. She's ready to contribute and do the best she can, and I know she will give us that extra little spark that we're looking for."