March 13, 2010
By Eric Trainer, Associate Director of Media Relations
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- The University of Tennessee track & field program claimed another event national title at the NCAA Indoor Championships Friday night. For the third consecutive season and the fourth time since 2004, a Lady Vol distance medley relay celebrated a victory, this time capped by a scintillating finish from anchor leg Brittany Sheffey in front of a crowd of 3,233 at the Randal Tyson Track Center.
The Big Orange women triumphed with the third fastest time in school history at 10 minutes, 58.37 seconds. Oregon was right behind UT at 10:58.96, while Georgetown was third at 11:01.40. The effort moved Tennessee's women, the defending national champions, into second place in the team standings with 16 points heading into the final day. Auburn is in first with 18, while Arizona is in third with 15.50, followed by Oregon (13) and Penn State (11) rounding out the top five.
After senior Phoebe Wright and sophomores Ellen Wortham and Chanelle Price set Sheffey up with a 30-meter lead via their clutch 1200m (3:22.21), 400m (54.07) and 800m (2:06.12) legs, the redshirt sophomore from Bellport, N.Y., closed the deal with a 4:35.98 1600m hitch. Sheffey's turn with the baton, however, didn't come without a truckload of tension.
Her huge lead eventually vanished, as Sheffey followed her coach's orders and ran conservatively during the first half of the race in order to store some reserve for a strong close. After getting their teams back into the picture, Oregon super frosh Jordan Hasay and Georgetown's Emily Infield took it a step further and moved past the UT runner with 700 meters to go. Sheffey hung tough, though, and with 400 remaining, she surged back into the lead with Hasay on her heels. On the final lap, the two slugged it out in an incredible battle of fortitude, with Sheffey rising to the challenge and holding the high profile rookie at bay down the homestretch.
"It was very rewarding seeing the youngsters give their best, and that's what's so exciting for me," UT Director of Track & Field J.J. Clark said. "No one expected us to win. No one knew Brittany Sheffey, and no one thought we had an anchor leg. It is just very exciting to see them all pull together as a unit and get this done."
In the women's 5,000 meters, senior Jackie Areson delivered her second school-record performance of the season to snare a third-place finish in 15 minutes, 53.12 seconds. The mark nipped the 15:53.54 effort that Areson charted earlier this season at the Husky Classic and gave her the finest NCAA Indoor 5K performance in program history. Her handiwork provided the defending NCAA champion Lady Vols with their first six points of the meet.
Areson ran with the lead pack early, settling in around fifth position. While eventual winner Lisa Kohl of Iowa State (15:39.65) began pushing the pace about halfway through the 25-lap affair and took a sizeable lead, Areson, Mary Louise Asselin of West Virginia and Nicole Blood were duking it out for second. Areson actually moved into the runner-up spot with 1200m to go, with Blood and Asselin giving chase, but Asselin reclaimed second with two laps remaining with Areson locking up third and Blood dropping out of the race. Asselin would finish a little under three seconds ahead of Areson at 15:50.53.
"She came into the meet ranked third, she finished third and she ran tough," Clark said. "I like this effort better (than her race at the Husky Classic), because that one was on an over-sized track. For me, this is a legitimate 15:53.
"She ran a little faster, and she was a gamer. She really, really gave it all she had and went out there and competed well. I am proud of her."
With that point production, Tennessee generated four more than expected on day one. The UT skipper is pleased any time his squad overachieves.
"We're just doing the best that we can, and that's what it's about," Clark said. "We're maxing out on the points that we can max out on, and that's what I want. We have to continue to do that tomorrow."
In the 800-meter prelims, two of the DMR contributors took care of business and moved on to Saturday's final. Wright, the 2010 NCAA leader and last year's runner-up in this event, took command of heat one from the get-go and cruised to victory in two minutes, 4.55 seconds, the fastest mark of the eight qualifiers. The product of Signal Mountain, Tenn., will attempt to become UT's first NCAA Indoor champion in this event since Nicole Cook in 2004.
Price, ranked number two in the nation in the 800, qualified for her first individual NCAA final by clocking a readout of 2:04.68 to finish second in heat three and join Wright in pursuit of a possible one-two finish on the final day. Price led most of the way before Indiana's Molly Beckwith eclipsed her at the line to check in at 2:04.61 and render the UT standout's readout third best of the advancers.
"You come here, and the goal is to advance, and advance they did," Clark said. "Just because it's on paper doesn't mean it's going to happen. We made it happen today, though, so I'm very happy with that."
It was not the kind of night senior Evander Wells, the only Vol competing in the men's competition, envisioned. The product of Stone Mountain, Ga., came up short in the prelims of the 60-meter dash, logging a 6.70 trip down the straightaway to place sixth in heat one and 12th overall after not advancing to the final. It marked his third career NCAA appearance in that event. He finished 10th last season and 11th as a sophomore.
Shortly afterward, it appeared Wells had earned a lane in Friday night's 200m dash final with a 20.78 readout in the prelims. His mark, which ranked sixth fastest of the qualifiers, was overturned, however, when he was disqualified over impeding the progress of another runner. The UT coaching staff lodged a protest, but it was denied.
"It was very, very frustrating," Clark said. "Evander has trained very well, and he gets disqualified. There was a little confusion with the infraction he committed, but the final result was he was disqualified.
"He has outdoors, fortunately. He has to come out and be committed to making a difference there."
Phoebe Wright (1200m) "It feels great, because every time I step on the track I wear the Tennessee name with pride. To come out here and win it three times in a row shows our consistency, and it shows how great our program is. I'm proud to be a part of it."
Ellen Wortham (400m) "It feels awesome. I'm really proud of my team. I was just running as hard as I could for them, and I'm just really proud that everyone came out and executed the way they were supposed to. Everything went according to plan, and it's just and awesome feeling."
Chanelle Price (800m) "I think last year's win was really special with the world record, but we expected to do it and everyone knew we could do it. This year, no one in this arena believed we could win, besides ourselves, coaches, team and fans. I think this one is a little more special to me, even though it's not a record or the best time in the world. We shocked people and it feels really good. I'm really proud of Brittany. She gets the MVP award, because she believed, and we believed in her."
Brittany Sheffey (1200m) "Honestly, that (saving some gas for the end) was my plan since last week. The whole entire time, the idea was to go out, and if they catch me, make it a good race. I wanted to make it hard for them to catch me, and if they did to be ready to go.
"I know that she (Jordan Hasay) is a great competitor, and that I could be nothing less than that if I wanted us to win. My team gave a great effort, and I knew I just needed to equal that. I was praying that God would give me the ability to finish, because I knew anything less than a strong finish would not have brought home the gold."
FRIDAY, MARCH 12
Men's 60m Prelims: 12. Evander Wells, 6.70p (6th, ht. 1)
Men's 200m Prelims: DQ Evander Wells, (ran 20.78pb/3rd, ht. 3/6th/DQed for impeding another runner)
Women's 5000m Final: 3. Jackie Areson, 15:53.12b!
SATURDAY, MARCH 13
Women's Shot Put Final: Annie Alexander
Women's 3000m Final: Jackie Areson
* NCAA automatic qualifier, + - NCAA provisional qualifier, ! - Personal best, Adv. - Advanced to next round, DQ - Disqualified, DNF - Did not finish, F - Foul, FS - False start, m - meters, mr - Meet record, NM - No mark, p - Prelims, sr - School record