May 29, 2004

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Dee Dee Trotter, Kameisha Bennett and the 4x400m relay set meet records Saturday, and the seventh-ranked University of Tennessee women moved three other individuals on to the national championship meet on the final day of the NCAA Mideast Regional at LSU's Bernie Moore Stadium.

The Lady Volunteers, who automatically qualified a total of seven athletes for the NCAA Outdoor Championships meet in Austin, Texas, June 9-12, tallied 65 points to finish in second place in the Mideast and improve on a seventh-place outcome in 2003. LSU scored 111 points to seize the team title, while Michigan was third at 53, Arkansas was fourth at 51 and Auburn was fifth at 47.

"We had a great second day, with three victories and a runner-up finish," UT Head Coach J.J. Clark said. "It's exciting to see the team deliver with such enthusiasm in a high-caliber situation. We're very sharp as we move toward the NCAA Championships meet."

Trotter, a junior from Decatur, Ga., successfully defended her 2003 region 400m crown, topping her own meet record (51.95) with a 51.43 performance to earn a ticket to Austin. The runner-up at the SEC meet two weekends ago, Trotter also successfully avenged a loss then to LSU's Hazel-Ann Regis, who took second on Saturday evening in 51.60.

The Lady Vol sprint standout will head to the outdoor national championship meet for the second season in a row. In Sacramento, Calif., in 2003, Trotter logged a school-record 50.66 and was the runner-up to Sanya Richards of Texas by a narrow margin. At the 2004 NCAA Indoor meet in Fayetteville, Ark., Trotter was third in 51.29.

Bennett followed Trotter's lead and bagged a championship of her own. The senior from Dayton, Ohio, rolled to the fastest time of her career to win the 800 meters over teammate Nicole Cook (Petersburg, Va.) with a 2:02.44 effort. That mark erased the 2003 region standard of 2:02.66, which had been held by Becky Lyne of Butler. Cook, meanwhile, joined Bennett in qualifying for the national meet, registering a runner-up outcome in a career-topping 2:03.06 as the Big Orange duo led from start to finish in the warm and muggy conditions.



The victory earned Bennett her second career trip to the outdoor competition in the 800m, as she made the trek to Baton Rouge for the 2002 NCAA gathering and placed 19th. For Cook, the berth is number three, with the first two resulting in finishes of eighth in 2002 and sixth in 2003. Indoors in 2004, Cook brought home the national championship, while Bennett placed 15th.

"Dee Dee showed that she's going to be very tough to beat in the NCAA meet," Clark said. "Kameisha demonstrated a lot of poise in the 800m, and Nicole had a personal best, indicating she's also ready to run fast at the NCAA meet."

UT closed out the meet with a victory in the 4x400m relay. The combination of junior Antoinette Gorham (Glenarden, Md.), Bennett, Cook and Trotter covered the distance in a meet-record 3:29.60 to claim a lane at nationals. That mark ranks third all-time in Lady Vol history and is the fastest 4x4 clocking by a Tennessee tandem since 1986. The clocking by Saturday night's quartet replaces a 3:31.49 readout that the same group produced to place fourth at the 2002 NCAA meet.

On the second leg, Bennett got the baton from Gorham in second place and gave chase to LSU. Less than 100 meters into her turn with the baton, Bennett had put the Big Orange in front for good. Cook and Trotter ferried the stick around the oval in strong fashion, holding off LSU and Auburn challenges over the final 800 meters. The result, a two-second victory over the host school and the fifth-best time in the NCAA ranks this season.

"The 4x4 ran a very impressive time," Clark said. "They were pretty much unchallenged toward the end of the race. We're going to head back to Knoxville, rest up and prepare for another big meet in Austin."

NCAA Indoor 60m qualifiers Tianna Madison and Toyin Olupona earned their initial trips to the outdoor extravaganza in the 100-meter dash on Saturday evening. Olupona, a junior from Orillia, Ontario, Canada, zipped to fourth place in 11.40, while Madison, a freshman from Elyria, Ohio, followed her across the finish line in fifth in 11.41. Both registered the fastest times of their careers, but those marks were aided by an illegal wind of 4.9 meters per second. Olupona was the 2004 NCAA Indoor runner-up in the 60 meters, while Madison was 16th.

"Tianna, as a freshman, showed a lot of character by advancing to the NCAA Championships in two events," Clark said. "It was also a big breakthrough for Toyin in the 100 as well. I am very proud of this team's focus this weekend."

In the 1500 meters, Tennessee came close to advancing two more, but senior Lindsay Hyatt and sophomore Brooke Novak ended up just outside the top five. Novak, from Kaukauna, Wis., was sixth in 4:24.09, while Hyatt, from Auburn, Calif., was seventh in 4:26.72. They, like 800m runner Leslie Treherne will wait and hope for an at-large bid. Treherne ranks 11th in her event nationally and appears to have a strong shot, while Novak and Hyatt are 26th and 28th on the 1500m list and will need some help to earn a ticket to Austin.

In the 3000m steeplechase, junior Elizabeth McCalley appeared to be en route to a victory in heat one of her event when she landed awkwardly when going over the water jump. The Knoxville native immediately limped off the track and was unable to continue. Her season ends on an unfortunate note, but she does own the UT record in the event at 10:36.39.

The Lady Vols will return to Knoxville on Sunday and turn their thoughts toward the national meet, which will be staged in the Lone Star State in less than two weeks.



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