May 2, 2004
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The weather was damp and dark at Tom Black Track on Sunday afternoon, but the University of Tennessee's Kameisha Bennett turned in the brightest performance of her career. On the final day of the 2004 Gatorade Classic, the senior from Dayton, Ohio, won the 800-meter run and charted the fastest clocking by a Lady Vol in that event in 14 seasons.
Bennett, running in a heavy drizzle on a gray day with temperatures hovering in the mid to low 50s, logged a career-best mark of 2:02.59 to claim Tennessee's most impressive victory of the two-day meet. Her recording was the fastest outdoors by a Lady Vol since Jasmin Jones ran 2:00.24 en route to runner-up honors at the 1990 NCAA Outdoor Championships meet in Durham, N.C. It also ranks the UT senior second in the nation among the NCAA Division I ranks and charts her as the 10th fastest in the world and third-fastest American woman at this point in the season.
The mark, which surpassed any time that Lady Vol NCAA and SEC indoor champion Nicole Cook (Petersburg, Va.) has ever run, indoors or out, earns Bennett a spot in the NCAA Mideast Regional meet in Baton Rouge, La., on May 28-29. Three other Lady Vol 800-meter runners notched qualifying marks in Sunday afternoon's gloomy conditions, including third-place Lindsay Hyatt (Auburn, Calif.) in a season-best 2:07.59, fifth-place Antoinette Gorham (Glenarden, Md.) in a career-best 2:09.29, and sixth-place Brooke Novak (Kaukauna, Wis.) in a career-best 2:09.64. They join Cook and freshman Leslie Treherne (Chesapeake, Va.), who earned regional berths earlier in the season, and give UT six potential entries in the 800 at LSU's Bernie Moore Stadium. The Lady Vols now have 13 athletes qualified in 11 different events for the regional competition.
"Kameisha's performance today was outstanding," UT Head Coach J.J. Clark said. "To run the second-fastest time in the country - she is really coming into her own. She has been doing very well the past several weeks, so what she did today is not surprising to me. She continues to make good progress, and we look forward to more good things in the future with her and the rest of our team."
In the 1500 meters, Cook barely missed the regional qualifying standard in a second-place finish. The junior crossed the line in 4:29.80, coming up short of the 4:29.12 NCAA mark. Other Lady Vol finishers included sophomore Felicia Guliford (Gallup, N.M.) in fourth at 4:35.91, senior Jessica Southers (Ashland, Ky.) in fifth at 4:36.77, sophomore Katie Flaute (Dayton, Ohio) in eighth at 4:47.27, redshirt freshman Carly Matthews (Winston-Salem, N.C.) in ninth at 4:53.97 and freshman Leslie Treherne (Chesapeake, Va.) in 11th at 5:08.68. All but Flaute posted career-best times.
Guliford returned to the oval later in the afternoon and bagged an easy victory in the 3000 meters, an event that is not contested at the NCAA outdoor meet. Her 9:56.08 readout placed her comfortably ahead of runner-up Southers, who kicked hard down the stretch to finish in 10:06.81. Matthews was fourth in a PR run of 10:09.37.
Freshman Edra Finley (Mobile, Ala.) captured her first victory during the outdoor campaign, winning the 100-meter hurdles in 14.91. Sophomore Caitlin Ward (Gibsonia, Pa.) was third in a career-best 15.81, while sophomore Catherine Wright (Knoxville, Tenn.) was fourth at 16.19.
In the pole vault, sophomore Kendra Rhyne (Andersonville, Tenn.) braved treacherous conditions to claim her first collegiate outdoor triumph. Her clearance of 11-9.75/3.60m was no small feat, considering the rain-slicked surfaces. Classmate Jessica Andrews (Rockford, Tenn.) navigated the bar at 11-3.75/3.45m to tie for second, while sophomore Jessica Reust (Knoxville, Tenn.) and redshirt freshman Ashley Rice were unable to clear a height.
Junior Toyin Olupona (Orillia, Ontario, Canada) picked up a pair of victories on Sunday, winning the 100 meters in 11.86 and coming back later in the day to take the 200m title in 24.35. In relay action, the UT 4x100m combination of Olupona, junior Dee Dee Trotter (Decatur, Ga.), freshman Tianna Madison (Elyria, Ohio) and Treherne appeared to be on target for a season-best reading until hand-off troubles on the second exchange slowed things down considerably and allowed Auburn to win 45.78 to 46.82.
Tennessee's "A" 4x400m quartet made amends for the earlier lapse, winning the meet's final race in 3:36.68 with Gorham, Cook, Bennett and Treherne on board. The Big Orange "B" foursome, which included Novak, Hyatt, redshirt freshman Mindy Sullivan (Lubbock, Texas) and Southers, took fourth at 4:02.77.
In a couple of throws events, junior Sara Vigil (Tucson, Ariz.) stretched the tape to 38-10.25/11.84m to grab third-place honors in the shot put, while Ward was fourth at 36-3/11.05m and Finley was fifth in a personal-best 28-2.25/8.59m. In her first time throwing the javelin in competition, Reust landed a legal stick of 94-7/28.83m to garner third. Ward was fourth at 78-7/23.96m, Andrews was fifth at 78-0/23.77m and Finley was sixth at 73-5/22.37m.
"The weather wasn't perfect, but our athletes came out with good attitudes and got some things done today," Clark said. "We added a few more to the regional list and continued our sharpening for the SEC meet. You always want to do more, but overall it was a solid day."
Tennessee is idle next weekend but will continue preparations for the Southeastern Conference Outdoor Championships on May 13-16 in Oxford, Miss.