Oct. 29, 2005
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The 21st-ranked University of Tennessee women's cross country team unleashed its best performance of the year Saturday morning at the Southeastern Conference Championships, and as a result J.J. Clark's Lady Volunteers edged No. 17 Arkansas by three points and extended UT's streak of league titles to three in a row.
Running on the 6,000-meter Hilton Field course at Fort Jackson Military Base in cool and sunny conditions, four Big Orange runners turned in All-SEC efforts as Tennessee tallied 48 points and finished just ahead of Arkansas (51) for the second year in a row. The three-peat of conference crowns by the Lady Vols was a program first and made UT only the second league school to accomplish that feat, joining the Lady Razorbacks, who carted off five trophies in a row from 1991 to 1995 and from 1998 to 2002.
"I'm very, very proud of this team for overcoming adversity," Clark said. "There were people who we expected at the beginning of the year to be here today contributing. I'm pleased with the way everyone stuck together and displayed great chemistry and poise. This is a good win.
"We've had some close, tough wins at the SEC Championships, but we've been able to pull them out in the clutch. It's good to see that. We've been consistent with it, and we're at the top of the SEC at this point."
Clark, who celebrated his fifth personal SEC title and gave Tennessee its fifth as well (1983, 1990, 2002, 2003, 2004), stopped both of UA's previous conference meet streaks, doing so during his 10-year stint at the University of Florida (1996, 1997) and reeling off his third crown as Lady Vol coach in only his fourth season at the helm. He also improved his UT coaching record to 378-95-1, including 42-2 in SEC Championships, as his 2005 unit ran its won-lost mark to 99-5.
Though Arkansas managed to get its fifth counting runner across the finish line before Tennessee's, the Lady Vols prevailed by having each of their first four scorers finish in front of UA's first four counters. The Lady'Backs' number five scorer came across the line 18th to the Lady Vols' 21st, but that margin was not enough to overcome the Big Orange advantage.
"Now that the race is over, you can tell it was very, very crucial for our first four to finish ahead of an Arkansas runner," Clark said. "It was a factor. Even though their five were in before our five, we had enough up front to cover it.
"Arkansas ran great. We just ran a little better. I am not sure whether it was their best race of the year, but I know it was for us. It was just a dogfight all the way through, and both teams can hold their heads up."
No. 28 Georgia once again held down third place, scoring 87 points. Rounding out the team scoring were Kentucky (116), Florida (137), Mississippi State (152), Vanderbilt (161), Alabama (190), Auburn (241), LSU (288), South Carolina (311) and Ole Miss (359). Auburn's Angela Homan, meanwhile, won her third straight individual title, covering the fast and firm course in 19 minutes, 40 seconds, after going out quickly to establish a lead and then holding on over the last mile to claim victory over UT's Felicia Guliford by six seconds.
Leading the Lady Vol charge and earning all-league distinction at the SEC meet for the second year in a row was the aforementioned Guliford. The junior from Gallup, N.M., turned in the best race of her career, covering the distance in 19:46.23 to demolish her previous 6K personal topper of 20:45.3. Her finish, which bested her fourth-place outcome at this meet a year ago, is the best by a Lady Vol at the conference championships since Patty Wiegand claimed victory back in 1990.
"Felicia obviously didn't run the first couple of races of the year, and then came on like gangbusters," Clark said. "She showed a lot of poise in this championship win by our team and did a very good job."
"I felt really good today," Guliford said. "I've had a hard year, coming back from injury and sickness. I'm just happy to be out here running with my teammates and helping the team win.
"I believe God has a plan for everyone, and the start of my season (injuries and illness) happened for a reason. Because I missed the first two races, I feel fresher at this point in the season and a lot more relaxed. Our training has gone really well, and my legs felt really good out there running today."
In only her second race at 6K, freshman Sarah Bowman (Warrenton, Va.) made her SEC debut in fine fashion, clocking a 20:02.47 result to grab sixth place out of 102 runners and notch a huge personal-record improvement over her 22:11 readout on Oct. 15 at the PSU National Invitational. She joined Guliford on the All-SEC Team, as did junior Katie Flaute (Dayton, Ohio) and freshman Leah Soro (Knoxville, Tenn.), who finished eighth and 11th, respectively, to give UT four all-league honorees for the first time since 1990.
Flaute, who was 10th in 2004 at the SEC gathering, was a repeat all-league selection by virtue of her PR race of 20:12.26. That mark toppled her previous best 6K time of 20:45.3 at the Paul Short Run on Oct. 1. Soro, meanwhile, collected all-conference honors in her very first league endeavor. Her 20:20.22 showing bettered her Oct. 1 mark of 21:10.5 at the Paul Short Run and enabled her to join fellow rookie Bowman on the All-SEC squad.
"Sarah and Leah had no idea what they were getting into, but they learned quickly," Clark said. "They didn't understand how aggressive Arkansas was going to be. They finished and said, "wow, I didn't know it was going to be that tough." I said, 'yeah, get used to it; that's what we do here.'"
"Both teams ran well, but we were able to come out on top today. I have been on both sides of the stick. I've been on the side where we've won and where we've just missed winning. I'm going to take the win as it is right now and celebrate with the team."
Closing out the scoring five for Tennessee was senior Carly Matthews (Winston-Salem, N.C.), who continued the PR hit parade with a 20:45.69 count that was good for 21st place. That mark overtook a 2003 career best of 21:17.53, which she had established at the Paul Short Run. Also running but not scoring were senior Mindy Sullivan (Lubbock, Texas), who was 37th at 21:26.30; freshman Rolanda Bell (Laurelton, N.Y.) in 51st at 21:52.76 and freshman Kimarra McDonald (Lumberton, N.J.) in 98th at 24:37.78. Sullivan, Bell and McDonald all turned in career-best days as well.
The Lady Vols will now turn their attention to the NCAA South Regional, where Tennessee will be seeking its fourth win in as many seasons. This year's meet will be at the site of Clark's last coaching stop, in Gainesville, Fla., on Nov. 12. Race time is slated for 11 a.m. ET at the University Florida Golf Course.