Phoebe Wright crosses the line and victoriously raises her hands skyward.
March 13, 2010
By Eric Trainer, Associate Director of Media Relations
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Phoebe Wright captured the 800-meter national title that eluded her last season, and Chanelle Price and Jackie Areson added fourth-place finishes in the 800 and 3,000 meters, respectively, lifting the University of Tennessee women to a runner-up finish in front of a crowd of 5,475 Saturday night at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships.
The Lady Volunteers, who collected their fifth top-four NCAA Indoor trophy since J.J. Clark took the reins of the program in 2003, scored 36 points and finished behind only champion Oregon (61). LSU was third with 35, followed by Florida (33) and Texas A&M (31) rounding out the top five finishers at the Randal Tyson Track Center. The men's crown went to Florida, which scored 57 to hold off the 44 points produced by both Texas A&M and Oregon. LSU (42) and Arkansas (38) closed out the top five.
"There is no coach in the country who would have said we'd be second in this meet," said Clark, UT's Director of Track & Field. "It's been that way for a number of years, where we come in here never the favorite, and we seem to do better. That's a sign of the kids and a great staff really getting it done. It's just something that our program has become known for."
In the 800, Wright ran the race like the NCAA leader she was entering the competition. The senior of Signal Mountain, Tenn., and Red Bank High School surged to the front immediately and seized control of the race, with teammate Chanelle Price running second much of the way. She would never relinquish her lead, winning in two minutes, 2.55 seconds to claim her first NCAA individual title and second crown of the weekend after aiding the victorious distance medley unit on Friday night. Price, the sophomore who came into the meet ranked No. 2 nationally, placed fourth in 2:03.95.
Wright, as Clark likes to say, flipped the script. A year ago, she was hit with an untimely respiratory ailment just prior to the NCAA meet. She managed to finish second despite that illness, but everyone in the Lady Vol camp believed Wright would have claimed the gold if not for that misfortune. In good health this time around, she came out on top of last year's winner, BYU's Lacey Cramer (2:03.89), and became the third Lady Vol to win this event indoors. The others were Nicole Cook in 2004 and Joetta Clark in 1983.
"It's very rewarding to see her come out on top," Clark said of his pupil. "She's worked hard. She has a great story. From walk-on (as a freshman) to national champion, and that's something that is very, very special.
"She is a great student, and has earned lots of academic accolades as well. She just does it all, so it's very pleasing to see her be successful in competition"
Wright felt the race went just as she visualized it unfolding.
"The plan was to get the lead from the start," she said. I wanted to have a clean run, just race and try and dare anyone to run faster."
Wright was humbled to join the company of Lady Vols who've won NCAA Indoor 800m titles and also represent her home state.
"It feels awesome," Wright said. "They're family to me. Just to be a part of the Lady Vol team and community and family is just an honor. It's a privilege to represent them all.
"Tennesseans have a lot of pride, and I'm no exception. I'm proud of my state and proud to represent it."
Another Big Orange senior turned in a gutsy fourth-place effort. After taking third in the 5000 meters Friday night, Areson gathered herself and gave it a go in the 3K. After running near the back of the pack for much of the race and admittedly not feeling her best, Areson overcame her balky body and began gradually picking her way through traffic with about 10 laps to go.
With 800 meters remaining, Areson was in the middle of the chase pack and appeared to be setting her sights on a hard charge at the end. That proved to be the case, as she reached for her extra gear at the sound of the bell and overtook all but the top three to claim fourth-place distinction in 9:10.09 with the No. 3 mark in school history.
"Jackie didn't even make the meet last year," Clark said. "For her to come back this season and do what she's done is very special. She got it together, we worked very hard, and she did a good job. Her focus, commitment and dedication to what she does this year has been at a higher level, and I'm extremely proud of her."
In UT's only other event on the final day, the women's shot put final, junior Annie Alexander was unable to match her All-America effort of a year ago. After placing third last season at 57-2, Alexander managed a throw of 53-7 on Saturday to wind up ninth of 19 competitors. Her mark of record came on her third attempt.
Tennessee will turn its focus toward the outdoor season, which begins in two weeks. The UT men and women will compete at the FSU Relays in Tallahassee, Fla., March 26-27. A small distance contingent will head to the Stanford Invitational on those same dates.
"We'll take a break, and then we start all over again," Clark said. Hopefully we can add a little more help outdoors with our throwers, get some people healthy for the sprint part and get them out here to help us out."
Women's Shot Put Final: 9. Annie Alexander, 53-7/16.33m
Women's 3000m Final: 4. Jackie Areson, 9:10.09b
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!
* 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