Feb. 24, 2010
By Eric Trainer, Associate Director of Media Relations
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Competitors and teams who aren't steeled with an ample supply of swagger might want to sit this weekend out. The 2010 SEC Indoor Track & Field Championships, which will take place Friday through Sunday at the University of Arkansas' Randal Tyson Track Center, will not be for the faint of heart.
The meet, which always showcases the best in collegiate track & field, seems to be shaping up even more so this season as a dry run for the NCAA Indoor meet, which will take place in the very same venue two weeks later. Seven league men's teams and five women's squads grace this week's United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) National Rankings. All five women's teams rank among the top 10, and three of the men's squads reside there.
While the Tennessee men are still looking to break into the top 25, the defending NCAA and SEC Indoor champion Lady Volunteers have dwelled there all season long. The UT women, who began the year at No. 12 in the preseason poll, have held the No. 4 post the past two weeks.
Awaiting the Lady Vols in Northwest Arkansas will be No. 3 Florida, No. 5 LSU, No. 6 Arkansas and No. 9 Auburn, among others. On the men's side, the Vols must contend with No. 3 LSU, No. 4 Florida, No. 6 Arkansas, No. 16 Auburn, No. 21 Alabama, No. 23 Kentucky and No. 25 Georgia. Such an abundance of strong teams leaves little margin for error, so maximizing every potential point is crucial for both Tennessee squads.
"Both our men's and women's teams have definitely made good progress up to this point," UT Director of Track & Field J.J. Clark said. "I'm looking for continued progress and for both teams to compete up to their abilities this weekend. Where that is exactly God only knows, but I want them to go out there in Fayetteville and show a fierce heart of a champion and execute as their coaches have taught them, as they have trained to do and as we all believe they can."
Even then, it will be a tall order for the teams from Rocky Top to match their victory on the women's side and third-place outcome in the men's race of a year ago. The Lady Vols lost some heavy hitters from 2009 in three-event champion and SEC high-point scorer Sarah Bowman (mile, 3K, DMR), two-event runner-up performer Lynne Layne (60m/200m) and Celriece Law, the victor in the 60m hurdles and third-place finisher in the triple jump. Also gone is mile third-place finisher and DMR leg Rolanda Bell. The Vols, meanwhile, no longer have the services of event-winners Michael Ayers (heptathlon), Nick Panezich (shot put) and Brenard Wilson (high jump), or runner-up pole vaulter Brad Holtz, who has only outdoor eligibility remaining. Ayers and Akeem Hardnett also placed fourth in the pole vault and triple jump, respectively.
On the women's side, Clark has entries ranking first in the SEC in five different events. That group includes defending 800m champion Phoebe Wright, a senior who leads the NCAA with a 2:02.84 readout that's just over two seconds shy of the collegiate record; senior Jackie Areson, who stands second and third in the NCAA, respectively, in the 3000 and 5000m with school-record clockings of 9:07.27 and 15:53.54; and sophomore Ellen Wortham, who ranks first in the league in the pentathlon with a score of 3,899 after placing fifth in that event as a freshman last season. UT is first in the league and third nationally in the distance medley relay at 11:02.85, with sophomore Brittany Sheffey, Wortham, sophomore Chanelle Price and Wright carrying the baton.
Clark has decided to have Areson focus on the 5K and DMR, a relay event Tennessee has won three straight seasons at SEC Indoors and five out of the past six. Other Lady Vols to watch include junior Annie Alexander in the shot put (2nd, 54-7 1/2), Price in the 800m (3rd, 2:04.72) and Sheffey in the mile (3rd, 4:43.05), while young weight throw entrants Laquoya Kelly and Jessie Harrison could break through for points as well.
"Obviously, Jackie, who has broken two school records this season, is someone who is in line to do well if she just continues what she's been doing," Clark said. "We're talking just continue and don't change anything. She's done a great job, and I'm very proud of her, but I believe there is still more in the tank.
"Phoebe has autoed in the 800 meters and is leading the country in that event. She has done well in leading up to this week, as has Chanelle Price, who also has an auto in the 800. She's matured a lot since last season, and she's healthy, so we're looking for this group to march forward in Fayetteville.
"Annie Alexander, who rested from competition the past couple of weeks, is always someone who can explode at any moment. We'll be counting on her for leadership as well."
The Vols don't have anyone at the top spot on the conference leader board, but they do have a few within striking distance of gold and within the realm of high point production. Junior Joe Berry, the defending indoor champ in the pole vault and a two-time winner outdoors, as well, is tied for second in the league this season with sophomore teammate Robert Rasnick at 17-0 3/4. Junior Peter Sigilai, a transfer from Rend Lake Community College, rates No. 3 in the league in the mile at 4:05.64, and he anchors the league's No. 2 distance medley relay combo, which has run 9:51.06. The first three legs include sophomore Emerson Peacock, freshman Terrance Livingston and sophomore Joe Franklin, himself a third-place finisher in the 800 a year ago as a freshman.
Senior Evander Wells, who didn't fare as well as he would have liked last season en route to taking eighth in the 200m, is a 16-time SEC scorer for the Big Orange in the sprints and relays. He rates fifth in the conference in the 60 and 200, posting top times of 6.66 and 20.99 that stack up ninth nationally thus far. Others who could help produce points for UT are senior sprinter Kyle Stevenson, redshirt freshman Chris Bodary and junior Michael Spooner in the distances, freshman Tyler Stepp in the high jump, sophomore Desmond Brown in the long jump and sophomore Ben Bartholomew in the shot put.
"On the men's side, Evander Wells has some great 60- and 200-meter times," Clark said. "He can definitely mix it up with anyone in our conference on any given day. Same thing can be said for pole vaulter Joe Berry, even though he had a bit of a late start this season. He has the heart of a champion, as well, and I look forward to seeing him compete at this SEC meet where he has done so well in the past.
"Of course, you have guys like Joe Franklin, Terrence Livingston, Emerson Peacock and Peter Sigilai who can step up and contribute to the scoring on the men's team. We'll need a collective effort for us to really get in there and get it going."
UT's first event gets underway Friday at 1:30 p.m. Central (2:30 p.m. Eastern), as Wortham competes in the pentathlon. There are no Vols entered in the heptathlon. Saturday features eight finals and a slew of prelims, lasting from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. Central time (11 a.m. - 8 p.m. ET). Sunday's final day of festivities extends from 10 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. CT (11 a.m. - 5:15 p.m. ET).
"It's an exciting time," Clark said. "We have some youngers who can individually do well and who collectively can help our team do well. We'll see where that takes us."
400m: Martinique Octave, Jená Murphy
Pentathlon: Ellen Wortham
High Jump: Ellen Wortham
60m: Evander Wells, Kyle Stevenson
200m: Evander Wells, Kyle Stevenson
400m: Samdi Fraser, Varick Tucker, John Hewitt, Alan Bachman, Nathan Grace
800m: Joe Franklin, Peter Sigilai, Emerson Peacock
Mile: Peter Sigilai, Mike Brodsky
3000m: Michael Spooner, Leoule Degfae, Chris Kane, Chris Rapp
5000m: Chris Bodary, Steve Fassino, Chris Rapp, Michael Spooner, Leoule Degfae, Chris Kane
DMR: Emerson Peacock / Terrance Livingston / Joe Franklin / Peter Sigilai
4x400mR: John Hewitt / Evander Wells / Kyle Stevenson / Samdi Fraser
Pole Vault: Joe Berry, Robert Rasnick
High Jump: Tyler Stepp
Long Jump: Desmond Brown, Tyler Stepp
Shot Put: Ben Bartholomew
Weight Throw: Drew Thomas