Feb. 25, 2009
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The second-ranked University of Tennessee women's track & field team will take aim at its third conference title in five seasons, as the Lady Volunteers compete Friday through Sunday in the SEC Indoor Championships at Nutter Field House in Lexington, Ky.
The Big Orange women, who hope to continue an odd-year string of titles that began with victories in 2005 and 2007, head into the league indoor meet as one of the favorites after placing second a year ago. Among the 12-team field are four other schools positioned in the top 25 of this week's United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Rankings. Joining UT in that group is the defending champion, No. 9 LSU, as well as No. 18 Auburn, No. 20 Arkansas and No. 24 Florida.
"I feel good, and I believe our team has come along well," Lady Vol Head Coach J.J. Clark said. "The team had a decent showing in our last meet at the Tyson Invitational, and we're coming along right on schedule. We're excited to go to Lexington this weekend and compete for an SEC Championship."
Since Clark began his UT career with a ninth-place finish at the 2003 indoor meet, the Tennessee women have reeled off five straight top-three indoor league outcomes. Those chronological placements from 2004 to 2008 include second, first, third, first and second. The last time the seventh-year skipper took his squad to Lexington for this meet, his troops emerged victorious in 2007.
Senior Sarah Bowman was instrumental in that team victory as a sophomore and enters the 2009 event trying to become the first woman in SEC history to win three consecutive indoor titles in the mile and 3000 meters. Only one woman, Becki Wells, has won those events three times at SEC Indoors, triumphing in both for Alabama in 1994 and then doing so for Florida in 1996 and 1997 with then-Gator assistant J.J. Clark serving as her coach.
Bowman also anchors Tennessee's distance medley relay (DMR), which has won that race at four of the past five SEC Indoor affairs and set the meet record in Lexington in 2004. Earlier this season, Bowman joined with junior Phoebe Wright, sophomore Brittany Jones and freshman Chanelle Price to clock an American record time of 10:56.40 in the DMR at the New Balance Collegiate Invitational in New York City. It is likely Clark will utilize at least some of those components this weekend from a tandem that logged the second fastest time ever run by women in world history.
In Tennessee's storied annals of women's track & field, from which 15 Olympians and 99 All-Americans have been produced, Bowman is tied for the most SEC Indoor total (6) and individual (4) victories entering this meet. She could remarkably assume those mantels all by herself, depending on her results this weekend.
"Obviously, Sarah is very important to our team," Clark said. "The fact that she can go out there and put herself into position to win is a great accomplishment for her and shows that she is very serious about the sport in which she competes. I know that she'll go out there and do the best she can for her team this weekend.
"We're very proud of Sarah and what she's done, and we look forward to more great things. Her season's not over yet, nor is her career. I am definitely not pushing her out the door."
While Bowman is capable of producing an abundance of points, Clark agrees that his approach is to build a complete team rather than to specialize and produce points in only a couple of areas.
"I try to, yes," Clark said about his efforts to recruit across all the event areas. "I like to get the events covered. I like to strategically put student-athletes in different areas. You have to work at it to keep it balanced, but I think it's an overall balanced attack that is consistently successful over time."
By looking at the SEC performers list this season, it is clear that Tennessee has nearly all the bases covered for producing points. Based on the league's ranking of entries, the Lady Vols project to score in every event except for the 400 meters. In fact, UT enters with the top marks in the mile, 3000m, 60m hurdles and distance medley relay, and has additional top-three performers in the 60m, 800m, 3000m, triple jump and shot put.
Along with Bowman leading the league in the mile (4:34.69) and 3000m (9:11.31) and anchoring UT's SEC-best DMR, senior Celriece Law heads to Lexington with the top 60m hurdles time at 8.18. Law is striving to become her program's first league indoor champion in the hurdles since LaVonna Martin zipped to back-to-back 55m hurdles wins in 1987 and 1988.
Defending shot put champion Annie Alexander returns for her sophomore season, hoping to become the conference's first back-to-back winner in that event since 1994. The first rookie female in league history to sweep indoor and outdoor shot put titles and also win the discus in the same season a year ago, Alexander will try to improve on her season best of 54-11 1/4 that currently ranks her second in the SEC and approach the school-record toss of 57-2 that she uncorked in 2008.
Also standing second on the SEC performers list heading into the meet are junior Lynne Layne in the 60m dash and Wright in the 800 meters. Layne ran 7.33 at the Tyson Invitational two weekends ago, marking the earliest time in a season she has ever run that fast. Wright, meanwhile, posted a career-best of 2:04.71 at the Tyson meet. The former walk-on from Signal Mountain, Tenn., will take aim at her first SEC individual crown after finishing third indoors and out last season.
A potential wildcard in the 800 meters is freshman Chanelle Price, who was the 2008 Gatorade National Female Athlete of the Year for all sports. She has worked her way back from an early season injury, and her high school marks include personal records of 2:04.96 indoors and 2:01.61 outdoors.
Others to watch and their SEC rankings include Alexander in the weight throw (6th, 57-9.3/4), Law in the triple jump (3rd, 41-6 1/2), Layne in the 200m (4th, 23.78), junior Jackie Areson in the mile (6th, 4:46.90) and 3000m (3rd, 9:31.35), senior Rolanda Bell in the mile (4th, 4:46.41), senior Katie Van Horn in the 5000m (4th, 16:37.00), senior Alicia Essex in the pole vault (6th, 13-0 3/4) and freshman Ellen Wortham in the high jump (4th, 5-7 3/4) and pentathlon (5th, 3502 pts.). Sophomore Brittany Sheffey, who has not competed since the Texas A&M dual on Jan. 24 due to illness, is slated to run the 3000 (7th, 9:38.67) and 5000 meters. She finished fourth in the mile and ran the leadoff on UT's DMR in 2008.
In addition to the situations that limited Price and Sheffey, Jones has been limited to only work with the DMR due to continued leg issues. Her outdoor prep time of 52.44 indicates a fully-functioning Jones would be a great solution to the 400m point vacancy. Still, Clark has rolled with the punches and seems to be at peace with his SEC entry list.
"We've had some surprises, but we are about where I wanted us to be," Clark said. "At the beginning of the year, you have this picture perfect plan, but it is not reality. Someone is going to get hurt, sick, whatever. We've gone through bouts with those things, and we're still in a decent position. Now, you have to go out there and compete and make everything you have a reality."
|FRIDAY, FEB. 27|
|Pentathlon (Auto: 4,050; Prov: 3,700) 4:30 p.m.|
|(60mH/HJ/SP/LJ/800m - last event at 10:25 p.m.)|
|SATURDAY, FEB. 28|
|Wt. Throw (Auto: 21.00, Prov: 18.75) 11 a.m.|
|Pole Vault (Auto: 4.20, Prov: 3.95) Noon|
|60mH Pre. (Auto: 8.14; Prov: 8.43) 2:50 p.m.|
|60m Pre. (Auto: 7.26; Prov: 7.44) 3:30 p.m.|
|Mile Pre. (Auto: 4:38.00; Prov: 4:48.00)^ 4:10 p.m.|
|Long Jump (Auto: 6.35, Prov: 6.10) 4:45 p.m.|
|400m Pre. (Auto: 52.40, Prov: 54.40)^ 4:50 p.m.|
|800m Pre. (Auto: 2:05.40, Prov: 2:09.40)^ 5:35 p.m.|
|200m Pre. (Auto: 23.20, Prov: 23.90)^ 6:25 p.m.|
|3000m Final (Auto: 9:15.00; Prov: 9:34.00)^ 7:15 p.m.|
|SUNDAY, MARCH 1|
|High Jump (Auto: 1.85, Prov: 1.78) 11 a.m.|
|60mH Final (Auto: 8.14; Prov: 8.43) 1:40 p.m.|
|60m Final (Auto: 7.26; Prov: 7.44) 1:55 p.m.|
|Mile Final (Auto: 4:38.00; Prov: 4:48.00)^ 2:15 p.m.|
|Triple Jump (Auto: 13.30, Prov: 12.65) 2:30 p.m.|
|400m Final (Auto: 52.40, Prov: 54.40)^ 2:35 p.m.|
|Shot Put (Auto: 16.90, Prov: 15.20) 3 p.m.|
|800m Final (Auto: 2:05.40, Prov: 2:09.40)^ 3:20 p.m.|
|200m Final (Auto: 23.20, Prov: 23.90)^ 3:40 p.m.|
|5000m Final (Auto: 16:08.00, Prov: 16:45.00)^ 3:50 p.m.|
|Katie Van Horn|
|DMR Final (Auto: 11:09.00, Prov: 11:30.00)^ 4:25 p.m.|
|4x400mR Final (Auto: 3:33.00, Prov: 3:40.00)^ 4:55 p.m.|
All Times Eastern
b - Banked Track Qualifying Standard, dnf - Did Not Finish, dnr - Did Not Run, f - Facility Record, fts - Flat Track Qualifying Standard, m - Meters, mr - meet Record, nm - No Mark Recorded, p - Prelims, s - School Record (Indoors), u - Undersized Track Qualifying Standard, * - NCAA Automatic Qualifier, + - NCAA Provisional Qualifier, ! - Personal Record (Indoors), ^ - Oversized Track Qualifying Standard