Nov. 22, 2002
The outcome of a season's toil results in Tennessee's cross country team capping the 2002 season Monday afternoon on the biggest stage the sport has to offer -- the NCAA Championships. After an improbable and stirring South Regional win last week to qualify for nationals, head coach George Watts and seven Vols plus an alternate compete in the 10K NCAA Championships, hosted by Indiana State at LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Ind.
"The NCAA Cross Country Championship is like no other competition and, to be successful, also takes a certain amount of patience and mental toughness," Watts said. "I believe we are physically ready to run another 10,000-meter race. This is a veteran squad that is motivated and disciplined. It has been a real pleasure to coach them this season."
Taking note of Tennessee's South Region victory last week, the Vols moved into the Mondo National Rankings for the first time in the 2002 season. In the Nov. 18 poll, Tennessee stands tied for 29th with SEC rival and fellow South Region member Alabama. Tennessee had been receiving votes periodically throughout the year, but this week marks the first time the Vols earned a spot on the national ranking list.
"We are looking forward to our return trip to the NCAA Championships this year with five of the top seven having competed last year," Watts said. "It can only help that we competed on the NCAA course earlier this season, and we hope to improve over last year's meet result."
Watts saw no need to break up a good thing after the Vol seven posted their best race of the year at the NCAA South Regional. The Vol mentor decided to send a duplicate lineup to Terre Haute for nationals.
Seniors Eric Bell, Rob Cloutier, Scott DeFilippis and Patrick Gildea will close their careers in collegiate cross country's biggest show. Meanwhile, Tennessee hopes to get another superb effort from juniors Tim Kelly and Steve Klein. The lone underclassman will be redshirt freshman Ed Davis, who's earned his keep with a respectable rookie campaign. Watts tabbed junior Keith Kimmons as the squad's alternate should misfortune befall one of the Tennessee seven. The top-five Vol finishers will count toward Tennessee's score.
Additionally, five members of this seasoned travel squad boast previous NCAA Championships experience. Gildea, DeFilippis, Kelly, Klein and Cloutier suited up for the Vols at the 2001 NCAA Championships.
The Tennesseans hope to improve on their 30th-place, 722-point finish at the 2001 NCAA Championships, their first appearance at the meet as a team since 1998. The struggle was evident in the Vols' top-five spread of 2:20, the only time in the 2001 campaign Tennessee's spread reached the two-minute mark. Last year, Tennessee fielded a travel squad of seven without a single NCAA appearance among them. This time around, however, Watts will send a more veteran seven to don the orange and white for Tennessee.
"We have had a good week of training and I commend the guys for their preparation this week, especially coming off of such an emotional and exciting race last weekend," Watts saidl. "The outcome of this race will be determined by how focused we stay and how well we execute our individual race plans."
Tennessee's best finish at the NCAA finals came 30 years ago in 1972 in Houston, Texas as Doug Brown and company brought the program's first NCAA title back to Knoxville. Alf Holmberg's (1951) and Brown's (1972) runner-up NCAA finishes stand as the best in the history of the Tennessee program at the championship meet.