Nov. 10, 2004
Tennessee competes in the NCAA South Regional Championship Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala., with an invitation to the NCAA championship on the line. The top-two teams at the South Regional meet, held on Alabama's 10K Harry Pritchett Course, earn berths in the NCAA championship Nov. 22.
"Although our number seven man is just as important as our number one man, the key for us will be how well our numbers three through five compete," head coach George Watts said. "We have to be willing to run through the difficult portions of the race and accept the fact that for a good portion of the 30-minute race it's going to hurt. The hurt is temporary, having qualified will stay with you forever.
Tennessee has established a habit the last three years of running its best race at the NCAA South Regional Championship. Last season the Vols entered the regional meet ranked sixth and finished fourth. In 2001, the last time the South Regional was held in Tuscaloosa on the Pritchett Course, Tennessee entered the meet ranked fourth and overachieved with a second-place finish to earn a trip to the NCAA meet. The most impressive regional outing for Tennessee came in 2002. The fourth-ranked Vols won the South Regional title on a cold and rainy day on their home course in 2002 to capture another NCAA berth.
The Volunteers will need to display some of that same regional fortitude in 2004. Tennessee enters the meet ranked fourth in the most recent Oct. 18 South Region poll. Florida State holds the top regional ranking and stands 12th in the national poll. Florida enters the meet second in the regional rankings and 21st nationally. Georgia takes the third spot in the regional poll and is receiving votes in the national poll. Auburn stands fifth in the regional poll and is receiving votes nationally. Additionally, Tennessee-Chattanooga ranks sixth in the region but narrowly defeated Tennessee earlier this season in a head-to-head matchup.
Instead of 8,000 meters, roughly the distance Tennessee has run in its previous five races, the regional race ups the distance to 10,000 meters.
"We are as prepared as a team can be for 10,000 meters and are looking forward to this weekend's race," Watts said. "The NCAA team qualifying spots could very well come down to the last 800 meters of the race. If we position ourselves correctly and compete through the middle part of the race I am very confident we will finish strongly over the last mile.
Coaches must cut their travel squad to seven plus an alternate for the
regional meet. Juniors Andy Baksa, Ed Davis and Zach Sabatino and sophomores
Jeff Day, Ben Lukowski, Brian Mills and Chris Platt will suit up for
Tennessee. Sophomore Dusty Miller will make the trip as an alternate. Davis
and Day represented the Volunteers in the South Regional last season.