Senior Chris Rapp has been UT's number two finisher the past two meets.
Nov. 10, 2010
By Eric Trainer, Associate Director of Media Relations
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Saturday will reveal the end of the cross country season for many teams and the launching pad to the NCAA Championship meet for others. The Tennessee men's and women's squads, obviously, would prefer to be among those extending their 2010 campaign on Saturday, as they compete in the NCAA South Regional meet at Veterans Park in Hoover, Ala.
The 6,000-meter women's race is scheduled to begin at 9:45 a.m. Central time, followed by the men's 10,000-meter affair at 10:45 a.m. CT. Samford University is the host school for the event, which will feature competitors from more than 25 schools in the South Region vying for team and individual berths to the national championship meet in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 22.
The top two finishing men's and women's teams will earn automatic trips to Terre Haute, while the top four individuals not on automatic qualifying teams also earn tickets to the NCAA meet. At-large team and individual bids from each of the nine regions will be announced on Sunday no later than 7 p.m. ET.
The Vols enter the meet ranked fourth in the region, a position they've held nearly all season long, trailing Florida State, Alabama and Florida. The Seminoles (No. 6) and Crimson Tide (No. 25) are nationally ranked. On the women's side, the Lady Vols began the campaign rated seventh in the region, but they are no longer among the South's top 15 teams. The only nationally-ranked women's program entering the meet is No. 3 Florida State.
"We have a tough task ahead of us, if we are to qualify for the NCAA Championships," 16th-year UT Men's Cross Country Coach George Watts said. "Since the beginning of the season, the goal of this team has been to qualify for the NCAA Championships. That has not changed. We will need to tighten our five-man scoring spread and close the gap significantly on the top three teams to have a successful race."
The UT men are seeking their first NCAA Championship berth since 2005. They were sixth a year ago at this meet but are hopeful of a much better outcome in 2010 as they tackle the first 10K race of the season.
"We are always prepared for 10,000 meters, and this season is no exception," Watts said. "We are a veteran squad and look forward to the race distance.
"I expect each guy to have a `quiet confidence' as we approach the meet and the mental toughness on Saturday to run the best race of the season. Each guy will need to know what role he plays and race accordingly."
From the 2009 regional meet, Tennessee returns two-time All-South Region performer Michael Spooner, who was 17th a year ago as a junior and 25th the season before. He also had a 44th-place result as a rookie.
The UT senior has paced the Big Orange in all four of his starts this season and in 10 of his last 12 races, including an 11th-place 8K effort of 24 minutes, 27.17 seconds at the SEC Championships on Nov. 1 that garnered him his third-straight All-SEC Second Team recognition.
UT's number-two man figures to be senior Chris Rapp, who has held that position in each of his past two races, placing 26th at the SEC meet in what has been a successful return from an injury-caused redshirt season in 2009. Junior Chris Bodary has been the squad's third finisher on two occasions and was the No. 2 scorer earlier in the season as Rapp worked his way back into form. Rapp and Bodary will be making regional appearance number three in their careers.
Jake Rainey, a true freshman, and Daniel Tobin, a redshirt freshman, are coming off SEC All-Freshman performances at the conference meet. Rainey crossed the line fourth for his team and finished 34th overall, while Tobin, whose brother Steven ran for the Vols from 2005-08, was the fifth scorer and 36th overall.
"Mike Spooner has done a nice job leading the team this season and has another great race in his legs," Watts said. "Our team captains and fellow seniors Steve Fassino and Chris Rapp have done a fine job in their leadership roles, as well, and look forward to a strong effort this weekend."
J.J. Clark's Lady Vols are used to being contenders, having won four straight NCAA South Regional crowns from 2002 to 2005 and never finishing out of the top four since he took the reins of the UT women's cross country program in 2002. If the team's 12th-place finish at the SEC Championships can be used as a barometer, though, that top-four region streak is in peril.
Leading the charge to fashion an improved showing this weekend and keep that string of success alive will be freshman Amber Zimmerman of Knoxville's Webb School. The local product has been her club's top finisher in four of five outings during her initial collegiate campaign, and she is coming off a 42nd-place result at the SEC Championships where she just missed earning SEC All-Freshman accolades with her career-best 6K time of 22:15.91.
Junior middle distance ace Chanelle Price will aim for a higher finish at the regional meet after running second for UT and placing 72nd overall at the conference meet. She was 18th at SECs and 32nd at the South Regional a year ago, so she has the potential to turn in a much better showing on Saturday.
Juniors Elizabeth Altizer (2008) and Elizabeth Tiller (2009), and redshirt sophomore Ally Colvin (2008) all have previous NCAA South Regional experience, and UT's finish in 2010 will rely on how this trio performs. Sophomore Andrea Ferri, Ramzee Fondren and Kelsey Kane also will be called on to become difference-makers for Clark, as his team searches for a recipe for success.
"We're going to the regional meet and looking forward to having a better performance than we did at the SEC Championships," Clark said. "We'll see what everyone brings to the table on Saturday."