Nov. 1, 2002
Tennessee's cross country squad welcomes the beginning of the all-important championship portion of the schedule with the arrival of the SEC Championships Monday in Gainesville, Fla. While success in September and October is a good thing--and the Vols have won two team titles in those months this season, Tennessee historically stresses results in November as the SEC, NCAA South Region and NCAA Championships roll around.
"The team and I are excited about the SEC Championships," head coach George Watts said. "I feel strongly that this team is ready to have its best races this month of November. It starts with Monday's race. The makeup of this team and the key for us in this meet, is how closely our top five run in relation to each other. I am hopeful we can have a spread [between the top-five scoring runners] of 20-30 seconds. I believe this team will represent the orange and white with the pride and toughness expected of a Tennessee distance runner."
The Volunteers meet their conference foes Monday morning to determine the holder of the SEC crown on an 8K course--the last 8K race of the season--at the University of Florida Golf Course. The Vols will have their work cut out for them in racing for a spot in the top four with strong squads from Arkansas, Alabama and Florida.
Arkansas possesses another powerful squad to currently stand No. 2 in the most recent Mondo national poll and take the role of frontrunner. Alabama owns a No. 26 ranking, the second-best in the SEC, and will dress out a talented eight-man unit. Homestanding Florida likewise will send a good team to the starting line and should be a factor on their primarily flat home course.
Watts chose a veteran group to send into the fray for the Tennesseans in co-captain Eric Bell, Rob Cloutier, Ed Davis, co-captain Scott DeFilippis, Patrick Gildea, Tim Kelly, Keith Kimmons and Steve Klein. Bell, Cloutier, DeFilippis and Gildea are seniors. Kelly, Kimmons and Klein are juniors, while Davis stands as the lone freshman in orange and white.
Cloutier, DeFilippis, Gildea, Kelly, Kimmons and Klein raced in the SEC showdown last fall. Of the above group, Kelly led with a 16th-place (second among Vols), 25:02.13 finish at the 2001 SEC meet. Meanwhile, Bell has competed for the Vols in the 1999 and 2000 SEC meets. That leaves Davis as the only newcomer to SEC competition.
"I feel very good about the eight guys we have competing," Watts said. "This is a veteran squad with all but one guy having competed in a SEC Cross Country Championship."
Tennessee enjoys a sizeable lead in the all-time SEC Cross Country Championships count. The Volunteers' 25 all-time SEC titles stand more than twice as many as the conference runner-up. While the 2002 SEC field will test the mettle of this Tennessee bunch, the Volunteers have had an inordinate amount of success in SEC meets held at Florida. The Gators have hosted the fall conference classic in Gainesville three times -- 1990, 1981 and 1973 -- and Tennessee has won the team title two of those years and individual title in each of those three outings.
In 1990, Tennessee's most recent SEC cross country title, SEC champion Todd Williams led the Vols to a 52-point championship effort. In 1981, Tennessee ran to a 38-point win with victorious Vol Rickey Pittman leading the way. During the first SEC cross country meet held in Gainesville in 1973, Alabama slipped ahead of the runner-up Vols by six points to take the team title. However, Tennessee distance legend and former Vol and Gator head coach Doug Brown won his second SEC individual title.
Last year at the SEC Championships in Auburn, Ala., the Volunteers placed third with 92 points, just seven points back of runner-up Alabama. Arkansas took the team title with 24 points. Meanwhile, Florida nabbed fourth with 97 points.