Nov. 16, 2002
The University of Tennessee women's cross country team, led by all-region performances from four of its five scoring runners, dramatically claimed the program's first regional or district title since 1983 on Saturday, as the Lady Volunteers captured the NCAA South Region championship by a mere two points over Florida State at rain-soaked Lambert Acres Golf Club.
Senior Sharon Dickie (Grand Blanc, Mich.), sophomore Brooke Novak (Kaukauna, Wis.) and freshmen Felicia Guliford (Gallup, N.M.) and Megan Cauble (Knoxville, Tenn.) finished second (21:43.13), fourth (22:02.65), 14th (22:34.20) and 20th (22:44.79), respectively, en route to All-South Region honors, which go to the top 25 competitors. Junior Jessica Southers (Ashland, Ky.), meanwhile, rounded out the scoring with a 36th-place effort of 23:21.57 to give Tennessee a point total of 72. That figure was just enough, as Florida State tallied 74 to finish just behind the hosts. With the triumph, the Lady Vols advance to the NCAA Championships race in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 25.
Tennessee, which also saw junior Erin Anderson (Kent, Ohio) take 47th at
23:46.39, and Elizabeth McCalley (Knoxville, Tenn.) place 69th at 24:27.68,
will make its sixth NCAA team appearance and run in its ninth championship
race in school history. The Big Orange, which last qualified in 1998, also
had NCAA berths in 1982, 1983, 1989 and 1990 as well as AIAW trips in 1977,
1979 and 1980.
"We are excited to be going to the NCAA Championships," first-year UT Head Coach J.J. Clark said. "It is obviously nice to win the regional championship, because that hasn't been done here since 1983. We get to go compete against the best teams in the country now and see if we can accomplish our goal of finishing in the top 20.
"This is a great opportunity for our program, because we are such a young team," said the first UT rookie cross country coach to lead a squad to a national meet. "Sharon was the only senior running for us today, and we still have a couple of freshmen who helped us this season who weren't out there in Katie Flaute (Dayton, Ohio) and Mindy Sullivan (Lubbock, Texas). We want to go to NCAAs and try to continue moving up the ladder."
When the results originally came out after the race, UT was shown with a 71-72 edge over FSU for the victory. After the NCAA-mandated 30-minute protest period, however, a review of the results was requested. Waiting over an hour and a half after the finish to find out the final verdict, Coach Clark and the Lady Vols were relieved and elated to hear the announcement that they were officially the victors by a final score of 72-74.
"It was pretty wild, because we really didn't know what was going to happen," Clark said. "I thought there might be a protest because of the small margin of victory. With a championship on the line, it was definitely something our meet management folks needed to do. We just tried to be patient and let people do their jobs."
South Florida took third with 83, while Auburn was fourth with 90 and Belmont finished fifth with 165. Other team scores included Florida (177), Georgia Tech (180), Mississippi State (183), Vanderbilt and Tenn.-Chattanooga (226), Samford (289), Georgia State (323), Central Florida (341), Alabama (398), East Tennessee State (420) and Alabama-Birmingham (451).
For Dickie, Saturday's performance added more accolades to her prolific cross country career at Tennessee. The team captain led her squad to the finish line for the 18th-consecutive time, became the first Lady Vol to grab all-region acclaim four times and etched her name into the books as the initial UT performer to qualify for four NCAA Championships races.
The only thing missing for Dickie was claiming an individual crown, as she did in 2000. The Michigan native gave it a run, but on this day, Florida State's Vicky Gill proved to be stronger. Still, not a bad day for the UT senior, who indicated a pre-race fall may have loosened things up a bit for her and her teammates.
"I thought I heard the gun go off, and I tried to start and then held myself back, which caused me to fall down," said Dickie. "I started laughing, and I saw Brooke (Novak) laughing about it. I think that actually helped us start off loose, instead of tight."
Despite the start line stumble, Dickie, Gill and South Florida's Christa Benton made it a three-woman race. At the three-mile mark, Benton had the upper hand. Gill picked up the pace while navigating a hill on the back side of the course, however, and Benton was not able to match it. Dickie and Benton gave chase, but Gill was too much, finishing in 21:03.87. Benton was third in 21:45.63, and Dickie credited the USF runner for keeping the challenge on for the remainder of the race.
"We pretty much helped each other out during the race," Dickie said of Benton. "If I had been running by myself, I don't know if I would have pushed as hard. Having her there with me the entire race helped me keep up a fast pace. I just had more left at the end to finish in front."