Nov. 13, 2004
Nov. 13, 2004
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The 15th-ranked University of Tennessee women's cross country team staved off a stiff challenge from 22nd-ranked Georgia to post yet another in a litany of program firsts this season -- a UT-best third-straight NCAA South Region championship. The Lady Vols scored 78 points to edge the 80 accumulated by the runner-up Bulldogs and earned a school-record third-consecutive NCAA Championship berth Saturday morning at the Harry Pritchett Golf Course.
On an overcast day with ideal running temperatures in the lower 50s, Southeastern Conference schools UT and UGA grabbed the pair of automatic NCAA berths accorded to the South Region. Chattanooga was a distant third with 140 points, followed by Florida State (176), Auburn (183), Samford (198), Florida (210), South Florida (265), UAB (266) and Vanderbilt (279) rounding out the top 10 in a field of 23. Just like the SEC meet, individual honors went to Auburn's Angela Homan, who held off Chattanoog's Shannon Wommack (20:27.27) with a first-place reading of 20:25.83.
"The bottom line is about winning, and this team is getting it done," UT Head Coach J.J. Clark said. "I am proud of how they pull together at critical times and make it happen. Sometimes they make it a little more interesting than necessary, but they keep finding ways to win."
Lady Vol senior Brooke Novak bounced back to her usual strong form after failing to score two weeks ago at the Southeastern Conference Championships, notching a seventh-place finish of 21:15.04 on the 6,000-meter layout to garner All-South Region acclaim for the third time in her career. The Kaukauna, Wis., native paced the Orange and White for the third competition this season and for the ninth occasion in her highly-successful career to enable UT to win its third region crown in Clark's first three seasons in Knoxville.
Fellow senior Elizabeth McCalley (Knoxville, Tenn.) came through with her best regional performance ever, taking 11th in a time of 21:28.71 to reap All-South distinction for the second year in a row after placing 24th in 2003. Joining her on the all-region squad were sophomores Felicia Guliford (Gallup, N.M.) and Katie Flaute (Dayton, Ohio). Guliford, who had led the Big Orange to the finish line in three of her previous four outings this season, took 14th and was UT's third scorer with a clocking of 21:34.62 to gain all-region status for the second time. Flaute, meanwhile, collected her first All-South certificate, crossing the finish area in 21:48.87 to place a career-best 21st and run fourth among her teammates.
UT's fifth-place scoring role went to junior Megan Cauble. The Knoxville, Tenn., product pocketed her third All-Region nod, covering the distance in 21:57.80 to place 25th and give Tennessee a school-record five all-region performers in one meet. Also running for the Lady Vols but not counting toward the scoring total were juniors Carly Matthews (Winston-Salem, N.C.) and Mindy Sullivan (Lubbock, Texas), who crossed the line in 32nd and 37th positions, respectively, in 22:09.85 and 22:21.50.
"Brooke came back to life (after the SEC meet) with a solid run, and Elizabeth showed up big once again," Clark said. "I am also very proud of Katie and Megan, who continued to show their consistency. Felicia had an off day by her standards, but she pulled it together and finished well.
"Having five runners in the top 25 is impressive,â?? Clark continued. "It's never been done before by Tennessee at an NCAA regional, and it is another great sign for our program."
The victory gave Tennessee its third NCAA South title ever (2002-2004) and its fifth region or district championship, including victories at the 1977 AIAW Region 2 and 1983 NCAA District 3 meets. It also means the Lady Vols will advance to the 2004 NCAA Championship meet, which will be held at 11 a.m. Eastern time on Nov. 22 in Terre Haute, Ind. UT will be making its 11th national appearance, including eight of the NCAA variety, and has earned three-consecutive trips to the national meet for the first time in the 31-year history of the program. Clark guided his first two NCAA-qualifying Big Orange units to 28th in 2002 and 24th in 2003.
With the triumph, Tennessee also chalked up five meet victories in a season for the initial time, and the Lady Vols improved their 2004 won-loss record to a school-best 111-5. That mark tops last season's 99-31 slate. It also gives Clark (269-70-1 in three seasons) his fifth region title overall, having won the 1997 and 1998 NCAA South Regionals at Florida before his three-year string at Rocky Top.
"We have come to a point we wanted with our program, where it has become something normal to go to the NCAA meet," Clark said. "That's my expectation for our teams, and one of our squadâ?TMs objectives each year. Our next step is to go to nationals and finish better than we did last year."